Ethics will form the centrepiece of any branded content strategy and conversations on social issues, be it environment, mental health, persons with disabilities, will dominate the marketing landscape
By Khushboo Sharma Solanki
Branded content is rapidly gaining traction in the advertising landscape. Branded content refers to the content that is produced or paid for by the advertiser brands. Unlike advertisement that focusses on hard-selling, branded content informs, educates and inspires the target audience through emotive storytelling. The objective of branded content is generally to create brand awareness and recall rather than generating sales via conventional ads. Conventional ads are generally perceived as intrusive and suffer from high drop-out rates. A report by The Brandgym points out that 84% of netizens skip ads on mobiles. They watch a 15-second ad for only 5.5 seconds and a 30-second ad for 7.4 seconds only. On the other hand, branded content captures the audience’s attention by subtly weaving a brand narrative with storytelling. According to a Forbes report, branded content improves recall by over 59% as compared to digital ads and increases the chances of consumers exploring such type of content by 14% after one impression of branded content. The finest example of the branded content was the Coke Studio launch on MTV in partnership with Coca Cola. The concept was a runaway success with the ‘Afreen Afreen’ of Season 9 garnering over 200 million views on YouTube.
The centrepiece of branded content is immersive storytelling. This form of advertising resonates with the millennial audience that is not likely to watch soap operas or get enamoured by ads. Branded content goes a step ahead of traditional advertising as it strives to create a profound impact on the community or involve it to be a part of an extensive narrative. A USC Annenberg Survey has highlighted that 4.5% of communication professionals rely on branded content for their campaigns and 67% predict that their clients’ budget on branded content will increase in the future. The reason is obvious; the brand gets to not just communicate its value proposition but also demonstrate and bring the audience alive with experience using branded content.
As we head into 2021, the changing economic scenario and consumers’ tastes and preferences will shape the branded content’s trajectory. Here are a few trends that we foresee to dominate in 2021.
Socially-conscious marketing will dominate in 2021 with ethically-aware brands will become more relevant. The COVID-19 has invariably reoriented the focus towards ourselves and society and reinforced the need for giving back to the community. Therefore, ethics will form the centrepiece of any branded content strategy and conversations on social issues, be it environment, mental health, persons with disabilities, will dominate the marketing landscape. A GWI’s ‘Connecting the Dots’ report has highlighted that 72% of respondents agreed that the COVID-19 has underscored the need for companies to behave sustainably. Similarly, a 2019 Forbes report highlighted that 88% of customers backed brands oriented towards a social cause.
Leveraging of influencers:
The journey of branded content is entwined with that of social media platforms. Amid the user-generated content gaining currency, brands are increasingly roping in influencers, a trend that will percolate and intensify in 2021. Micro and nano influencers will also dominate the scene. Instagram reels and Facebook stories have created an opportunity for influencers to curate content with branded hashtags.
With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the content revelling in nostalgia such as the memory of past days became our means for maintaining optimism and sailing through tough times. A joint study by Talkwalker and Hubspot highlighted that social media keywords related to nostalgia witnessed an 88% increase from 13 million to 24.4 million in 2020. The finest example here is Gucci’s 2020 Christmas Gift Campaign that recreates a holiday party in an office in a 1990s setting. The campaign helps customers to revel in the illusion of normalcy amid the pandemic. We foresee this trend to continue into 2021, albeit prompting a revisiting of strategy on uplighting memories or escapism.
Seamless execution and subtle delivery:
With the customers becoming more aware and vocal about their brand choices, on-the-face advertising is a strict no-no. The key here for brands is to devise creative formats and experiment with them to strike a chord with the target audience. Lego Movie and Net- a- Porter magazine’s Porter are perfect examples of brand alignment. Moreover, a flawless execution by weaving a consistent brand narrative across platforms will be imperative for advertisers to retain a competitive edge.
Amid diminishing attention span and ‘on the go’ consumption habits of millennials, video advertising will be the dominant format in branded content. Video advertising is proven to report higher engagement and exposure than any other advertising format. A Cisco report predicts global video traffic to increase by 3x between 2016 and 2021. Moreover, netizens spend three hours on a daily average on smartphones. Hence video advertising optimised for smartphones will dominate in 2021.
The proliferation of technology, the changing customer tastes and preferences and innovation by brands in the dynamic advertising landscape will ensure that branded content will thrive in 2021. Staying authentic, identifying appropriate causes that resonate with the brand philosophy and mix-match of various formats will enable brands to stand out from the clutter.
The author is founder, Zero Gravity Communications