Branded content and ad agencies: room for everyone

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The launch of ‘Vigyapanti’ by AIB renewed the debate in trade press about the rise of such enterprises which focus on branded content – mainly online videos focused on entertainment with a ‘role’ for the sponsoring brand. The role of the sponsoring brand could be: mere mention in the credits, a reference (tangential or otherwise) to the product and its usage or a theme revolving around the brand promise.

Over the past couple of years, long-format films from brands, created mainly for YouTube, have become common. Ad agencies have taken the opportunity with glee, mainly because there is no restriction of duration unlike the expensive-to-air 30 second films. The going-in premise with such long format films, rightly so is that they must be entertaining. The brand’s role in such an approach can become tenuous. In my view, most such films (as with regular advertising) are run of the mill. Also, sometimes the film makers stretch the story unnecessarily when it can be told in a shorter duration, probably with more impact. The films tend to be packed with certain common ingredients: humour, emotion, surprising someone with an unexpected gesture and filming it, to name a few. Traditional ad agencies have jumped into this bandwagon too competing with specialist ‘branded content’ folks.

In this context, are such branded content agencies a threat to the traditional agencies? I think not. I believe there is room for everyone. Content for brands fulfil many different objectives and there is a content-type which fits each role. This may sound simplistic but brand communication can broadly be grouped into (a) communication meant to deliver short-term results (b) communication which helps in long term brand building and (c) communication which creates awareness and imbues cool quotient. Of course, a good piece of communication does all this. What I mean is that tactical stuff (ad for a free pen or price off) is the one meant to deliver short term results. And then there are thematic ads dramatising a brand proposition. The last bit – ‘creating awareness and imbuing cool quotient’ is what startups and new brands seek. The cool quotient bit is perhaps what attracts them to such branded content agencies. However, as an an ad agency industry veteran asked: does such branded content make the brand famous? Or do people simply remember the content theme or the makers?

When crowdsourcing was attempted by some big brands I had said this: businesses are built on the basis of some solid brand thinking and creativity which is meant to deliver business results. And that creativity is based on universal insights, understanding of consumers and market realities. The focus of branded content is pure entertainment with the brand playing a minimal role. While there will be takers for such content, I don’t think a bulk of marketers feel such a need. To that extent, there is room for everyone.

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