Content Investments Need Time To Mature

Adweek’s Brian Morrissey argues that “branded content has yet to take off” despite all the “hype, rounds of venture capital investment and a flurry of activity.”

Mark Beeching, CCO at Digitas, which created a dedicated unit to produce branded content called The Third Act, said, advertisers have lurched from strategies that relied too heavily on destination sites to a love affair with viral videos to a tendency to create content overwhelmed by brand messages. “The biggest problem of most branded content is the brand,” he said. “So much branded entertainment is trying to make advertising entertaining.”

Therein lies the problem, the confusion between long form advertising and branded content. Branded content is The King Biscuit Flour Hour–pure entertainment brought to life by a brand. Long form advertising, on the other hand, puts the product or service front and center. It’s not hard to tell the difference.
Morrissey also points out that the slow adoption rate by brands has left Hollywood content producers holding the bag.

The slow maturation of the industry has meant several digital studios have closed shop, including the much-hyped 60Frames, backed by United Talent Agency and led by former agent Brent Weinstein. It was meant to bring a stable of top-notch Hollywood talent, like Joel and Ethan Coen, to digital projects connected with brands.

I’m far from troubled. Agencies don’t need to turn to Hollywood for digitally-delivered content. The content can be made by the agency partner(s) in-house on the cheap, thereby significantly reducing the client’s exposure.
Many agencies–loaded with writers, designers and producers–have the talent on hand right now to make compelling serial Webisodes, documentaries, online magazines, Internet radio stations and more. I’ve been right in middle of this content scrum for a number of years, and from the agency side of the coin, I don’t see this practice going away, I see it germinating in select, but fertile ground.
The biggest question here isn’t who can do the work, or what will it cost, it’s what will the work do for the brand? In my experience, few clients have the patience to find out. Brand managers need something to move the needle now, or else. This fact makes any marcom experiment, content-based or otherwise, a tough call. My suggestion to brands is put 10% of the marcom budget aside for these experiments and keep them going until you have the hit you’re seeking.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.