Branded entertainment is as an exciting opportunity with plenty of space for innovation.  I believe wholeheartedly in the core principle behind branded entertainment: don’t annoy people by interrupting their entertainment, be their entertainment.  However, it is a very tricky balance to find that perfect combination of great entertainment with a brand’s essence at its core. 

I published this paper on branded entertainment in October 2012.  It is my opinion, an opinion that has been formed from working simultaneously in the world of TV programming and the world of marketing.  Please share your opinions on it with me, I would love to hear them and discuss them. 

Branded Entertainment 

Why Now?

Branded entertainment is not new

Branded entertainment is not new.  Proctor and Gamble were pioneers of it in the 30’s and 50’s  with radio and TV soaps.  It had a resurgence a decade ago with the extremely successful, and still often cited, BMW films.  BMW films created much excitement in this space but the intervening ten years have not translated into the sophisticated branded entertainment market that some might have expected. 

There are perhaps two main reasons for this: firstly, the industry has not developed a robust set of standards and tools to measure the return on investment of branded entertainment;  secondly, it disrupts the existing eco-system between brand owners, agencies, production companies, media owners and broadcasters.  After all, for decades brands and agencies have been used to spending 10% of the budget on production and 90% on the media.  Turn this on its head and put the lion share of the budget into production and it requires some significant adjustment on the part of all involved.

In any walk of life, a catalyst is needed to disrupt a set of conventions and the catalyst that may propel branded entertainment into a more commonly used engagement technique is upon us now in the form of the rapid and radical change in consumer behaviour brought on by technological change and the move into a multi-channel connected world. 

The Drive To Find New Engagement Techniques

Brands need to enhance and not interrupt

The mass take up of new technology has shifted the balance of power to the consumer giving them much more choice and control and an ability to quickly organise themselves into powerful communities making advocacy the single most effective marketing tool today.  This is forcing brands to rethink how they communicate to their customers and to find new engagement techniques.  Multiple screens, and the ability to choose what  we watch and when we watch it, are driving forces in creating a new world order where brands need to enhance and not interrupt.  And therein lies the power of successfully executed branded entertainment. 

Brands As Media Companies

Brands can move away from ‘renting’ audiences and own their own

The multi-channel effect and social media are also enablers that can take branded entertainment mainstream: brands can move away from ‘renting’ audiences and start owning them.  Brands no longer need to use broadcasters’ platforms to distribute their content when they can create their own channels.  This is not to say that there is not still a strong case for distributing on established platforms, indeed ad-funded programming on TV channels is an exciting opportunity for brands. 

Looking forward, as the penetration of connected TV’s* in the home increases, brands have a greater chance of being perceived as broadcasters in their own right as they launch branded apps.  In February, Marks and Spencer were announced as the first UK retail partner to create an app for the Samsung Smart TV’s, with, unsurprisingly, Audi and Red Bull quickly following suit. 

*By 2015 , 350 million connected TV’s will have been sold around the world (Vision IPTV).

A Strategic Shift

It needs strategic acceptance that creating content is important

For branded entertainment to be successful it does need acceptance at all levels in an organisation that creating content is strategically important to their business.

A move into branded entertainment requires a shift in thinking away from a campaign-based approach to marketing. 

There are numerous examples of brands that have created You Tube channels, posted five videos in a short period of time and then never posted any content since.  The effectiveness of the channel was most likely never tracked, there was probably not enough budget put into it in the first place to create the content, grow the audience and sustain it, and the brand manager who was championing the channel probably left.  No wonder it was abandoned.

For branded entertainment to impact the bottom line of a business, it is important that the organisation has a clear understanding of its purpose and that the right expertise is brought into the business to execute it.  Brands that are going to embrace branded entertainment need to start to thinking of themselves as entertainment brands.  The best example of this is of course Red Bull. 

Developing Branded Entertainment

Serve the audience first, don’t make long form commercials

The first principle of developing a branded entertainment programme is to make sure it works for the channel and the audience.   Of course, branded entertainment always needs to tie back to a strategic marketing objective, but if it doesn’t work for the audience it will fail.  Brands that take the leap into branded entertainment need to ensure they have people on their team with a background in programme thinking, which is quite a different mindset from making commercials.


It’s about how engaging it is, and not about length

In this multi-channel universe brands are no longer limited by format.  The 60 or 30 second TV spot was a practical constraint placed on advertisers because of a time-limited linear broadcast schedule, but with ‘on demand’ viewing and an infinite number of channels available to us, the only limitation now is how long you can keep a viewer’s attention and the brand’s ability – financial and expertise – to build an audience around that content. 

For programme makers and marketers this opens up a whole new world of creative opportunity.  Furthermore, when media space is free, or very low cost, the ability to create spin-off content and start to build community around hundreds of hours of content is now possible. 

Building Brand Value

Building brand equity by adding value

This is not an opinion piece that sets out to bash TV advertising, I do believe there is still a place for it and that branded entertainment can work very well alongside it.   However, the problem comes if you apply TV advertising thinking to branded entertainment. 

One of the rules of thumb when buying TV airtime is that you need to run your commercial often enough for their to be five ‘Opportunities To See’ (OTS) in order for it to have a reasonable impact.  For a viewer, even the most stunning of adverts gets boring by the fifth time you have seen it.  This is a method of building brand awareness by repetition, that is, repetition of the same thing over and over again. 

However, with branded entertainment the viewer is most likely only going to watch your show, read your magazine or attend your event once.  The repetition factor comes in when you entice them back to watch new episodes of your shows, read the following month’s magazine, or when they come back to your event next year.  The branded entertainment route is therefore giving a lot more value back to the consumer, which should translate to a deeper level of engagement.

Nevertheless, the economics of having to create new and original content each time throws up a challenge for organisations but with a third of the total value of stock markets today being accounted for by brands, and with profits determined by the success of your brand, building deeper engagement with customers through branded entertainment should be being taken seriously in boardrooms around the world. 

Building An Audience Around The Entertainment

Make viewing your programmes a habit and you’ve cracked it

Building an audience around the entertainment is something that takes time.  Furthermore, once you have started building that audience you need to create new content on a regular schedule to keep them coming back. It needs long term commitment for it to give a return, so is it worth it?

Standing in a stuffed tube in rush hour I thought, “great there is a new episode of my favourite TV show I can watch when I get home”.  Theoretically there is no reason why a brand could not have created that programme.  Providing that the programme represents the essence of your brand, if watching your programmes is something a viewer looks forward to, the relationship you have been able to build with that viewer has gone far deeper than any programme sponsorship ever could have done.  Produce a story that resonates with consumers and you can create a deep emotional connection with them. 

Bringing The Best Marketers And Programme Makers Together

We are human after all, and we like our comfort zones

Most weeks I find myself living in two distinctly different worlds.  I flip from a marketing environment with a focus on delivering brand messages and driving sales, to the world of factual and documentary filmmaking. 

When I attend the documentary events and markets and meet commissioners and filmmakers, the vast majority regard brands and marketers as the devil.  However, mostly, these professionals do know how to make really engaging programming and they understand what people want to watch. 

When I sit in marketing meetings the objective is almost always to engage with consumers, but brands tend to take a top down approach prioritising their objectives over those of the consumer.  It is a natural position to take when you, as a marketer, are living and breathing your brand every day, but top down thinking can kill a branded entertainment concept.

And what about the viewer/customer? If you can create engaging programming that people are going to enjoy then most people do not care if a brand paid for that content or if it was commissioned by a broadcaster.  

The challenge for the brand owners is to make programmes that can entertain and also deliver their marketing objective, and it must be said that branded entertainment is not right for every brand.  If you are selling incontinence pads then it is unlikely you are going to be able to become an entertainment brand.


  1. Charlie Read says:

    I think you’re completely right about marketing needing a new way of thinking – I think the biggest problem is that the traditional agency structure that manages content production is flawed as its still using outdated models to create entertainment. There doesn’t just need to be an understanding across the void between brands and entertainment makers but a new set of processes that allows the entertainment process to breath.

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