What branded content isn’t

It doesn't give you a customer. It won't tell you if you sold more product. And it's definitely not easy, says Toast's Alexandre Gravel.

biothermBy Alexandre Gravel

With advertising, I often say you create customers. You ask them to buy your stuff. With branded content, you build an audience.

In a recent article, Jim Kiriakakis said, “Branded entertainment is not an ad. Period. It’s a long-term investment in your audience – it’s about engaging and growing a fan base.”

With branded content, I can’t tell your customers your yogurt will be 30% off this weekend. But with ongoing content efforts, I can make sure that when you want to tell them it is with an ad, you’ll know better than before how to reach them and they will be more willing to hear from you.

Publishing new content is not something that will have direct impact on this week’s sales. It is an activity that takes time to bring in results. This is always a harder thing to explain to C-suite execs, who are driven by results, often immediate results (which is okay, don’t get me wrong).

In the branded content Outrun series that Toast Studio created with cosmetics brand Biotherm Homme, we targeted men in a way that allows the brand to acquire a new audience, putting more Canadian men in touch with the brand through content that will interest them (a guy’s nine-month journey running across Canada in this case). The brand was present at each stage of the script-writing process so that we could build a series that really fit their brand values and objectives.

In a recent study, two-thirds of respondents felt deceived upon realizing that an article or video was sponsored by a brand. This is because they either had bad experiences in the past or the content lacked quality and/or transparency.

More and more brands do it properly, putting some of their old reflexes aside in order to bring usefulness to their audience and client base. But many others still want to do it in a sneaky way, hiding their true objective until the end of that informational video. Or publishing unbranded content and then revealing who is behind it (remember that video with strangers kissing?).

Some brands just can’t stop putting themselves into the content they produce. AllSecur (a Dutch insurance company) recently started a branded content campaign, publishing videos targeting car owners. A great idea at its core, but in one of them, there are no less than four logos of the company onscreen.

Branded content doesn’t live on the same calendars as advertising. And it usually should not be executed by the same teams.

A television screenwriter is not your best person to develop a powerful 30-second ad, and your copywriter/AD team might not be the best at developing long-form content (but each is extremely good in their own field of expertise).

You also have to be in for the long run. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

“Agencies sometimes like to think in short numbers,” says Gabe Garner, the SVP of digital development at Firstborn, a New York City-based agency. “Though, if it’s on a three- to four-month cycle, that might be a sign of budgetary issues with the brand. But, even if you don’t have the budget, a brand should have a longer [content plan] of at least six months.”

And that six-month timeline should actually be an ongoing effort. If you build an audience and then stop interacting with them, you will lose them. If you can maintain that audience for a long period, you are building a fan base that gets stronger with each new piece of content that is published.

Branded content comes in as a support tool, a way of creating an audience beyond traditional advertising.

It supports advertising, it sets the table, it prepares your audience for your sales pitch.

BIO_AlexandreGravel-2014Alexandre Gravel is partner and producer at Toast.