With the average digital consumer spending over two hours per day on social networking, brands have more than a fair shot of getting attention on digital. But with online content that competes for eyeballs increasing exponentially, branded content is becoming one of the fastest growing forms of marketing. The storytelling within branded content picks up where banner ads leave, helping brands drive engagement with audiences. Interestingly, The State of Video Marketing 2018 report by Wyzowl mentions that 83% consumers would consider sharing a branded video with their friends that they enjoyed while 85% people maintain that they would like to see more video from brands in 2018. So when Brand Factory went to ScoopWhoop to promote its Free Shopping Weekend property, it was made into a ticketed event with tickets being sold online to get good deals on fashion brands. ScoopWhoop even created a branded episode of its show, Mann Ma Emotion. “The video did not just go viral with over three million views but also pushed traffic to the online ticket site and converted 30,000 passes which is unprecedented in the branded content space,” highlights Meghana Bhat, chief strategy officer, ScoopWhoop Media. But not every strategy works. With branded content becoming mainstream and consumers being bombarded with messages on digital, what is the best way to achieve engagement?
Building up the story
Storytelling with branded content will be effective when the brand is integrated seamlessly and meaningfully into the plot without being intrusive. Saket Saurabh, business head — digital, Bloomberg Quint states, “Brand managers and marketers have realised that as the number of screens and digital reach expand, branded content will help them reach the right audience. We launched with branded content at the core of our revenue model.” Bloomberg Quint claims to have seen success with branded content and monetisation in 2015-16, working with advertisers in around 30 categories including BFSI, auto, FMCG, telecom, etc. The digital ad market is growing but it is no longer uni-dimensional. Everyone wants to create content; there are plenty of conversations floating around but the marketing team alone cannot scale it. Moreover, branded content’s RoI is led by the number of views and is totally dependent on what publishers tell the brand, making it a challenge for measurability and effectiveness. But brands are finding their own ways to measure content and explore formats. “All content formats are tagged with suitable measurement studies to ensure we learn what works and build back into future campaigns,” mentions Maneesha Khanna, director — global media and content COE, PepsiCo. Mirinda has leveraged branded content for both editions of its Release the Pressure campaigns complemented by a digital film by Shoojit Sircar this year, apart from partnering with Fortis Healthcare to provide realistic solutions to students and parents during exam season. Or take Birla Sun Life, which used non-traditional formats like Facebook Live and podcasts on Bloomberg Quint to do a rundown on how the recent Union Budget impacted the common man. In fact, some publishers like Pocket Aces have a piece of branded content every week. Explaining the right approach, Aditi Shrivastava, co-founder, Pocket Aces says, “We first spend time with the client understanding the target consumer base, business challenges and the main messaging to be conveyed.” The team then comes up with content ideas that are relatable for that target audience where the brand’s messaging can be seamlessly integrated.
The team then comes up with content ideas that are relatable for that target audience where the brand’s messaging can be seamlessly integrated. Pocket Aces is also adding new monetisation models like syndication/ licensing of existing content to other platforms like TV (Tata Sky), airlines (Emirates, Etihad, Jet Airways and Spice Jet), OTT (Ola Play, Sony Liv and Dainik Bhaskar Digital) and maximising creator revenue share from YouTube (such as through pre-roll ads). Others like Bloomberg Quint boast of a Brand Studio — a content and marketing studio comprising content creators, marketers and a monetisation unit. In most cases, around 15-30% of revenue comes in from branded content but for publishers like Pocket Aces, branded content forms a lion’s share by contributing around 80% of its revenues. On the other hand, for brands like Furlenco, digital advertising is the primary medium for branded content with 30-40% of the budget currently allocated to it. But it is the sectors like BFSI and auto that have done interesting pieces of branded content and spent more on branded content than FMCG companies. Interestingly, web series is currently the most premium format on digital, creating premium influence and mind share for a brand. It helps associate the brand with the featured characters for an extended period of time, taking care of the whole quarter or more for a brand’s digital marketing needs.
Scaling the Chinese ‘Great Wall’
It is not always possible to create relevant content. “Advertisers are given the step-motherly treatment from editorial teams and there is a ‘Chinese Wall’. Thus, it becomes important to educate marketers as they are not born with a publisher’s brain,” states Rajan Srinivasan, founder and CEO, Spiral Content Solutions. In the constant power tussle between the editorial and commercial teams, publishers must ensure to follow strict guidelines and let users know of the (advertorial) content they are viewing. “Editorial brands should ensure that they tell users if the content is supported by an advertiser. The other challenge is discovery, since there is so much clutter out there,” highlights Saurabh. “Ensuring that the content gets discovered in the right way to grab attention and engage with the user can be tough.” Although the industry is moving towards campaign level performance metrics, a unified measurement system should come in and a common cross-platform currency would help. For BBC Worldwide, which has created several pieces of branded content on TV and digital including Asian Paints Har Ghar Kuch Kehta Hai and Voot’s Stupid Man Smartphone, the challenge is time. Myleeta Aga, SVP and GM, South East Asia and South Asia, BBC Worldwide mentions, “Aligning the brand and platform takes time and you need time to create content. But with ads being cut off or reduced on so many platforms, how else do they reach their audience? I think the requirement is only going to increase.” However, with the lack of a common performance metric, brands sometimes fall into the trap of hazy numbers given by publishers. “Make sure the views and reach are genuine from the right target audience and not just bought. This can be judged by looking at the engagement rate of the content and calculated by looking at the shares and comments that the piece of content is getting,” states Shrivastava. But one needs to be nimble and keep learning to explore new models of engagement. “Branded content is very different from the traditional advertising we are used to. Branded content needs to be message-first, while TVCs are always brand-first,” concludes Khanna.