What is Branded Content and Why Does It Matter?

Posted June 6, 2016

Everyone in the Marketing + Advertising world is talking about branded content — and everyone has a different definition.

Wikipedia defines the term branded content as “a form of advertising that uses the generating of content as a way to promote the particular brand which funds the content's production.”

Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Perreti defines it as “native advertising for all the different platforms where people share [our] content.”

In their article “WTF is branded content? It’s complicated,” Contagious gives us multiple definitions to consider from various sources. One of which is from Oxford Brookes University and Ipsos MORI who state that ‘Branded content is any content that can be associated with a brand in the eye of the beholder.’

And the Branded Content Marketing Association (BCMA) itself…doesn’t yet have a valid definition. According to them, “branded content is predicted to be at the heart of every marketing strategy, and there is growing evidence that there will be a significant shift in budgets to support it. However, there is still some confusion as to how to do it, who should do it and how it is measured. The BCMA is best placed to define what branded content ‘is’ and what ‘it isn’t’ and measure the effectiveness through its investment in research and proprietary tools.”

Honestly? None of these definitions really capture the essence of the term. They’re vague, complicated, and quite frankly - feel a little bit too much like traditional advertising.

In our extensive search to find a definition of Branded Content that aligns with how we at Boldly envision it, we finally stumbled across something close:

PJ Pereira, the creative chief from Pereita O’Dell believes that:

the premise for branded content is to assume that you can’t buy the consumers’ time, and that you want them to give you their time. For me, something that is worth the consumer’s time is the best definition of what branded content is. So if you think more radically and try and stretch that definition, then even a 30-second spot is branded content if it’s worth the consumers’ time. And I’m fine with that, as I like to play through those lines.

Now this isn’t exactly a perfect definition, but at least it makes sense. Nobody likes to be sold to and most consumers can smell advertising from a mile away. If a company is able to produce a piece of content that is worth the consumer’s time, then they are on the right track to captivating that audience.

From what we’ve found online, some marketers love the term Branded Content, some hate it, but either way, they are all vocal about their opinions. Just type in “branded content advertising” into Google and you’ll see what we mean. Now, how do we feel about it at Boldly? As filmmakers, we really like the idea of it — if executed smartly.

For decades, people have been going to the movies. Although the popcorn is a serious bonus (especially drenched in butter), they’re not going for the popcorn. They go to feel something. To experience emotion. To engage with a different perspective. To learn new things. To be entertained. Films have the power to evoke feeling and stimulate thought. Films give us something to talk about. And we keep watching them because every film brings something unique to its audience. Yes, even the ones that score 11% on Rotten Tomatoes.

At Boldly, we think true Branded Content should have the power to move audiences as much as the best films out there do. And that very notion is the primary difference between “advertising” and “authenticity.” If a brand is merely advertising to consumers but masking it with a piece of content that resembles a film, we’re not overly excited. However, if a brand has a great story to tell and pulls it off genuinely with true filmmaking, now that is something we can get behind. No fluff, no sales, no wishy-washy product placement —simply storytelling. To us, THAT is Branded Content.

Case and point. According to Joe Pulizzi in his article “Can we please stop using branded content?” on the Content Marketing Institute, at the 2015 Cannes International Festival of Creativity, there were 1,394 entries in the ‘branded content and entertainment’ category. By the end of the festival, the judges had NOT awarded a grand prize winner because no piece was seen as category-defining work. Pulizzi identified that many of the entries displayed over-usage of product placement and many just slapped a logo onto something. In short, the entries all looked and felt like advertising.

So now you’re probably asking, what does a powerful branded content short film look like? To give you a little inspiration, here are some beautiful pieces we really admire:

1. PRADA presents "CASTELLO CAVALCANTI" by Wes Anderson


Okay, so not every company is going to be able to score Wes Anderson, but do you see what we mean? Yes, the Prada brand is present, but it is subtle and the film does not revolve around it. Viewers (especially Wes Anderson fans) can watch this as a standalone piece of art and feel something real.

2. Intel & Toshiba present “The Beauty Inside.”


We always come back to this one. Yes both Intel & Toshiba had a brand presence throughout the campaign, but the films themselves were real, raw, powerful. Viewers could relate and boy did these videos ignite conversations online. The stats are proof of that: 70million views. 26million interactions. 97% approval on Youtube. 66% lift in brand perception for Intel, 40% for Toshiba. 300% sales increase. All of that due to a genuine message told via a powerful series.

3. Johnny Walker “Dear Brother.”


This one is a special case. These filmmakers wrote, directed, and produced this gorgeous piece on their own as a spec video. Johnny Walker was not their client. It was so stunning and compelling that it got shared all around the world, landing them over 4 million views on Youtube and positive comment after positive comment. If Johnny Walker isn’t yet their client, they will be one day.

Our conclusion? Branded Content can be a powerful tool. If executed well. Instead of simply slapping your logo to the end of a film, think about the ideals and values of your brand, and the perceptions you strive towards. Albeit authentically, those should be integrated throughout. Take the Prada video for example. Is it wildly entertaining and damn good storytelling? Absolutely. However, it also features fine race car driving and international travel, including a romantic, expensive location. These elements add to the story, make it more powerful, and you can bet they were written with the Prada brand in mind!

Care to check out some of the branded content we've made here at Boldly? Try our Vancouver Art Gallery piece from 2016. It's got guts, and it's got emotion, but it's not just about the exhibits. For another option, check out how director Amanda Strong took on the CBC's X-Company in stop-motion. Or, for a different spin, watch our mini-documentary for Artlink Canada, featuring artists and their process.

If you take away anything from this article, take away this:

Authentic storytelling → Powerful short film → Successful Branded Content.

Get in touch with Shelby Manton