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Blurring the Lines Between Ads and Entertainment

September 17, 2020

Historically, marketing occurred in two spots during television and movies: clear commercial breaks or product placement. Both expensive options only the nation’s biggest brands were privy to. But, as with anything within this industry, the onset of social media has brought accessibility to the masses. With the dollars to reach large audiences in the hundreds and not millions, the continual decrease in production costs, and the oversaturation of traditional content marketing tactics, smaller companies have been more inclined to enter the world of branded entertainment. That is, creating content funded by a brand that a targeted audience consumes solely for entertainment purposes. 

From big-movie product placement to branded podcasts, the advertising industry has successfully been attached to the world of entertainment for decades. But today, the line between the two has nearly disappeared. Through podcasts, web-series, and even feature-length films, brands are delivering content that is so compelling, their audiences can forget—or ignore—the fact they’re viewing advertisements.

Behind this shift in focus are multiple factors. Mainly, the universal increase in on-demand, binge-worthy media consumption. And while COVID-19 has brought the reliance on streaming services to the forefront, according to Deloitte’s Digital Media Trends Survey, “even before the crisis, 38% of U.S. consumers were binge-watching weekly for an average of 4.2 hours per session.” For marketers, it’s crucial to understand media consumption trends to find where their brand fit. And while, for years, there’s been a push to create “snackable” short-form content, long-form narrative content can be as, if not more, effective if delivered at the right time, place, and level of quality.

And while certain data points will support investing in quick, attention-grabbing content, business video platform Wista breaks down why viewers remember content they actively seek out. Video and Brand Marketing Strategist Phil Nottingham writes, “…we’re more likely to remember the things we actively seek out than those that are thrust upon us. Long-form video series…demand a level of focus and attention that typically equates with a meaningful impression.”

While video consumption continues to grow and evolve, other aspects of inbound content marketing have begun to plateau. According to Jennifer Zeszut, CEO at Beckon, a marketing performance data platform, “…while branded content creation is up 300 percent year over year, consumer engagement with that content is totally flat.” Alarming on its own, by pairing it with the fact that just five percent of all branded content accounts for 90 percent of engagement, it paints a dark portrait for digital marketers working with regional or niche brands. But while these numbers may be discouraging for those of you working with less than Nike-size budgets, there is hope. By formulating a plan that fits your goals, your identity, and—of course—your budget, you can launch a successful branded entertainment series for your business.

Connect the Concept to Your Brand.

The first step in identifying the right type of branded entertainment campaign is a deep dive into your target audience. By evaluating what platforms they’re using and what content they’re consuming, you can shape your creative execution not only to reach them but to keep them engaged. While overt branding of a podcast or web series can turn off savvy viewers, connecting the overall narrative thread to the essence of your brand—or a particular strategic insight—is a much more effective and long-term solution to building a connection to your audience. Essentially, the “big idea” should be a magnification of your strongest differentiator or brand characteristic that will resonate with your target audience.

Be Consistent.

When producing any type of episodic content, one of the more important elements to establishing an audience is consistency. We’ve all seen examples of one-off viral videos whose creators can never repeat the same level of success. To avoid this, put together a long-term plan—from both a timing and conceptual standpoint. To grow a loyal, engaged audience, your content must be delivered at the same time and be of similar quality and subject matter that brought them there in the first place. Seth Godin said it best: “if we earn attention, over time, we gain trust.” And building trust in your brand should be one of the most fundamental goals of your marketing efforts.

Play the Long Game.

Finally, creating great content in a vacuum isn’t enough. When diving into the branded entertainment space, you’re no longer only competing with content within your industry—you’re battling the likes of Netflix and Amazon for the attention of your audience. To support your efforts, you must devise a fully integrated marketing plan that both promotes your series but also moves your viewers or listeners into and through your sales funnel. Through paid digital, social, retargeting, and lead-generation campaigns, you can begin to turn your audience from passive watchers to paying customers.

Regardless of your industry, market, or aversion to risk, your content should already be straddling the line between advertising and entertainment. As marketers, whatever you create should be enjoyable to your audience on some level. And while effective white papers or blog posts still have their place, as things move further toward the world of entertainment, it might be time to create something simply for the fun of it.

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