Feature: Branded Content
BRANDED CONTENT BMW SUNSILK ACADEMY
As Morgan Spurlock highlighted in his documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,
the lines between advertising and entertainment are blurring. Elizabeth Low finds out how.
Oscar Wilde once wrote: "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you." Brands seem to be moving in parallel principles, as many increasingly use entertainment to get consumers to pick up their advertising messages.
General Motors' recent highly publicised pullout from Facebook advertising clearly says something. The car maker claimed traditional advertising didn't prove effective and while it still plans to run content on the site (for an in-depth analysis, read our piece on page 10), the move raises the issue of the significance of traditional advertising versus content creation, especially in an increasingly digital age.
Discerning the shift, brands have increasingly tried to blur the lines of entertainment or content and advertising to draw consumer eyeballs. They have come up with events, films, video games, music, television shows and more.
One example is BMW Asia, which even has its own internet television channel and pushes content through multiple social media sites, says marketing director Lito German.
In one good example, it created a series of short films called The Hire with an all-star cast (including Madonna and Clive Owen) which became an online hit and saw BMW's sales rise after they were screened. This series continued for a few years, with more than 100 million views garnered and was widely touted as the beginning of a wave of branded content being created.
Locally, it created an online campaign "The BMW Switch" for its BMW Performance Accessories line that triggered more than 300,000 online views. The campaign was built on a simple prank where the BMW vehicle of a nominated "victim" was surreptitiously switched with a similar BMW model and fitted with selected BMW Performance Parts. The campaign then allowed viewers to nominate the next victim.
The success of the campaign allowed BMW to dominate online conversations during the period, with a 71.2% share of voice versus its competitors. German says as a result of increased awareness and conversation on BMW Performance Parts, the campaign generated a sales increase of 34% year-on-year.
"Branded content allows BMW to reach out to a wider audience in a manner that is more engaging and even entertaining. These campaigns also bring more conversational topics to both direct and aspirational audiences - thereby keeping BMW at the top-of-mind in terms of recall at all times," he says.
But measurability still remains a drawback for this means of branding. While certainly more cost-effective as opposed to traditional advertising (most of this content gains mass reach through social media channels), it has limitations in terms of messaging and targeted delivery, says German.
"Tactical messages, for instance, don't spread well in a viral scene. In addition, it's very difficult to control the target audience when it comes to social media," he says.
THE GAME IN ASIA
Perhaps an indication of the rise of branded content is the Cannes adding a new category this year for branded content and entertainment.
While some have argued that there are not many great examples of branded content in Asia, this is hardly the case.
One example was the wildly successful Clear anti-dandruff shampoo drama, broadcast in China (watched by at least 720 million Chinese, with 90% correctly associating Clear with the programme).
Ben Heyhoe Flint, head of Asia Pacific for Omnicom Media Group Fuse, says the figures for this form of marketing are rising quickly in Asia.
"If you define branded content as just general entertainment (in linear television or digital channels, broadcast sponsorship, product placement, etc, not including sport), then it has grown a whopping 122% over the past three years in Asia Pacific.
Compared with other sponsorship genres - event, celebrity, annualised properties (such as leagues, orchestras, etc) - it's by far the fastest growth genre."
Locally, companies have also been quietly taking up this means of branding. To reach heartlanders, local mum-and-pop grocery store-cum-supermarket chain Sheng Siong has been using television variety shows such as The Sheng Siong Show, running on MediaCorp's Channel 8, to build brand awareness with Mandarin-speaking folk.
It features MediaCorp stars hosting these shows in Mandarin, with Sheng Siong's branding displayed in the backdrop, which have been running for several years. While the supermarket chain declined to comment on the effectiveness of the programme and its sales revenues, the company has made healthy profits in the past few years, and is listed on the Singapore Exchange.
Another local example is Unilever's Sunsilk, which sponsored a localised mandarin version of international singing reality show Academy Fantasia to Singaporean audiences.
Also targeted at the local Chinese-speaking population and youth, the live-streamed 10-week show runs with hair care brand Sunsilk as its title sponsor, as well as other household brands such as Darlie and Eclipse, Nikon and Pasta Mania as sponsors.
The show was previously launched in the regional markets of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, India and China by production firm Refinery Media and in Singapore will screen on StarHub channels.
On how the programme intends to build the Sunsilk brand, Shawn Lee, brand manager for total hair care category for Unilever Singapore, says it wants to associate the range of hair care products as being able to achieve red carpet glamour hair even at home.
"We are extremely excited to be part of Sunsilk Academy Fantasia as this quest represents a search for passion, exuberance, and excellence - qualities that embody the spirit of Sunsilk," Lee says.
The campaign also involves an integrated approach covering media touch-points on TV, mobile, on-ground, print, digital and social media, enabling Sunsilk to reach out to a younger segment of consumers and grow a new generation of fans, says Leela Nair, managing director of Mindshare Singapore, Sunsilk's media agency for the campaign.
Major FMCG brands such as P&G and Unilever have successfully embraced the remaking of global TV formats such as Got Talent for some of their Asian markets, in addition to local digital ideas, says Angela Rapley, head of content for Asia Pacific at Mediacom, adding that other Asian brands are choosing to concentrate purely on digital or locally ideated activation-based ideas.
BRANDED CONTENT VERSUS TRADITIONAL
"One thing is certain, most in the industry would agree that to rely on traditional media is folly, especially in a region like Asia which is extremely diverse and where there's been a fall of up to 10% to 15% in TV spots ROI, added to a seismic shift in the way we consume media. Brands have to engage differently to achieve that desperately required cut through," Mediacom's Rapley says.
According to Rapley, branded content has been shown to deliver much higher results.
"What our business science and analytics teams are seeing is that dollar for dollar, the investment in branded content on TV, from a pure media return perspective, indexes at approximately 1.4 versus traditional free-to-air TV investment. That means if you invest $1 in branded content on TV, you should get at least $1.40 back in pure media value," she says.
She adds, however, upon taking into consideration all the 360-amplification elements (digital, PR, on-ground, etc) branded content indexes much higher - it has the potential of a ROI of two or sometimes three times higher than that of traditional media.
"But this, of course, all depends on the ‘quality' of the integrations and amplification plans, and how good an equity fit the content is in the first place.
"In a nutshell, branded content can offer a more long-term, deeper relationship with the consumer. It can improve brand loyalty, favourability and message delivery/brand communications in ways traditional TVC simply cannot."
Fuse's Flint says even compared with the usual sponsorship of a sports event or rock concert, where the brand is essentially doing a one-dimensional media buy which will create some awareness, but not much more, creating branded content will achieve more, that is, coupled with key brand activation touch-points.
"The sponsorship will not engage the audience on a more emotional level. By activating, you are allowing the fan to interact with the brand in a deeper, experiential way - tweeting to a branded sports stats channel; SMS-ing a vote in a sponsored talent show; sampling the latest gadget at a hands-on demo at an event; etc."
He quotes an AIG example where it teamed with Manchester United and invested US$100 million for a four-year period and saw US$100 million in its bottom-line in the first year.
According to CVL Srinivas, managing director for Asia Pacific for Liquid Thread and chairman of Starcom MediaVest Group India, branded content has come a long way, evolving for brands to move from just "exposure"-led advertising to building "engagement" and "action".
"A 30-second TV spot or a half-page print advertisement can only deliver a certain amount of messaging and has a certain shelf life. A piece of branded content, if done imaginatively, can deliver messaging in a more engaging manner and can have a much longer effect on the consumers."
In certain markets, some categories of products cannot use traditional advertising because of local policies. Here again, branded content comes to the rescue of such categories and brands.
Srinivas lists three points brands should note in creating their own content. Firstly, brands should not err on the side of too much branding as it leads to viewer dissonance with the content.
Another basic principle is to ensure brands leverage the right kind of content that will enhance the brand attributes and add to brand recall, rather than content that might have a negative impact on brand attributes.
Lastly, he advises brands not to measure the effectiveness of branded content the same way one measures the effectiveness of traditional advertising.
"A simple messaging innovation that rides on an existing piece of content and cleverly weaves in a brand linkage could cost less than a traditional TV spot. While a full-blown advertiser funded programme could end up costing more than a traditional TV campaign. However, the impact each of these has on the brand is also very different," he says.