Branded content is a relatively new form of advertising medium that blurs conventional distinctions between what constitutes advertising and what constitutes entertainment. Branded content is essentially a fusion of the two into one product intended to be distributed as entertainment content, albeit with a highly branded quality. Unlike conventional forms of entertainment content, branded content is generally funded entirely by a brand or corporation rather than, for example, a movie studio or a group of producers. Branded entertainment is used in events and installations, film, video games, music, the internet, and television.
In 2012 Branded Content/Entertainment, become a category at the Cannes Lions International Festival of creativity. As Jury President for The first Branded Content & Entertainment Lions is Avi Savar, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Big Fuel. The new Branded Content & Entertainment Lions will seek to celebrate work that has demonstrated how a brand has successfully worked independently or in association with a content producer or publisher to develop and create or co-create entertaining and engaging content for their audience. This could be either by creating original content or programming for a brand or by naturally integrating a brand into existing formats by partnering with a publisher or media partner.
The technique 
In the 1930s, radio broadcasting became popular, which in turn led to companies increasingly using the airwaves to sell their products in the form of radio advertisements. As radio advertising gained momentum, they began allowing sponsors to buy time slots during the scheduled radio programming in order to sell their products. This is when the first glimpse of branded content media occurred. While listeners would tune in solely for entertainment purposes, they were consistently, yet briefly, interrupted with ads for products aimed at the demographic listening to the specific program. For instance, during many day time radio shows featuring dramatic story lines (which mainly stay-at-home moms enjoyed), advertisers would promote goods such as soap, thus came the term “soap opera”. In order to sell these products to the public, advertisers of the time focused more on what the people wanted to hear rather than the legitimate facts about the product. By creating an ad that convinces the listener that they need the product, yet at the same time coming across as something other than an advertisement, was the first introduction to branded content as we know it today. In this way, both advertisers and consumers come away satisfied.
This notion of an advertiser or company producing media which is engaging for the consumer in order to sell more products has been around for decades. The term branded content, however, really took hold as a new marketing technique in 2001, when The Hire was produced and distributed on the internet and DVDs. It featured a series of short films by Hollywood "A-List" directors, with the BMW car as the real star of the action. The popularity of these films spurred other marketers to create films, music, games, interactive content and real-life events, which merely exists to entertain and educate the consumer, keeping their attention long enough to market a product or service. In this way, both advertisers and consumers come away satisfied.
Product placement and incorporating products into entertainment mediums have become an essential marketing tool in this age of TiVos and DVRs. These recording devices allow viewers to simply fast forward through commercials, making traditional television advertisements seemingly useless to market products. Thus, various entertainment vehicles have chosen to create close relationships with firms and products in order to lower the cost of advertisement production and enhance the integrity of the ad. As branded content has grown in respectability, so have the partnerships. In order to receive the necessary amount of upfront money, many networks have chosen to offer marketers the opportunity to stealthily intertwine their products within a storyline so as to captivate the audience’s interest without blatantly focusing on the product. One-time deals have turned into long-term commitments, even including brands and networks conceptualizing television shows collectively. Today, marketer support has spread to include sponsoring events, creating video games, and creating online webisodes both the brand and network’s website can use. As commercial ratings continue to decline, and companies constantly struggle to maintain viewership during ad breaks, this sort of partnership is a very valuable mechanism. Branded content allows more engagement with the product as well as the chance to charge companies even more than usual for these exclusive relationships.
Entertainment mediums, such as films, television shows, and video games, are a huge part of, and help shape, the culture we live in today. When the viewer sees a specific brand in one such entertainment medium, it is a significant and resonant experience. Since television rose in popularity in the 1960s, realistic portrayals of life have been common on most shows and actual brand names are necessary in order to create a sense of dramatic realism. In this way, the audience is attracted to the brand more so than they would have been in the first place, simply because they have viewed it in mainstream culture. Consequently, branded content tie-ins along with media commitments are quickly becoming the most effective form of advertising. Big-budget films are obviously an incredible medium for product placement, however when considering branded content as a whole it is oftentimes more profitable for companies to consider the whole spectrum – radio, television, podcasts, blogs, and so on. This method has the ability to create an emotional link in consumers that the industry greatly needs today.
Producing branded content has become an extremely effective tool for advertisers in this day and age. The outcome of well made branded content can do wonders for the company producing it, but only if the content is made properly. Not only do they have to make sure that their product is being sold as successfully as possible, they also have to ensure that the content they’re producing is exceptionally well done and sort of tricks the viewer into seeing the short film as something more than an advertisement. The most successful branded content programs are able to blend the advertising message in a seamless and transparent fashion, literally making it a part of the storytelling, while still getting the information across to the consumer.
In 2003, the Branded Content Marketing Association was formed in order to endorse branded content to a wider, international audience. In January 2008, the BCMA conducted a study which shows just how effective branded content is when comparing it to traditional advertising. Over one-third of people were skeptical about traditional ads and only one-tenth trusted the companies producing such adverts. The study concluded that "in the overwhelming majority of cases consumers preferred the more innovative approach compared with traditional advertising".
Another 2008 study once again shows how useful branded content has become in the age of technology. Over 95% of the time, web sites that feature branded content were more successful than web sites featuring typical advertisements, and are 24% more effective at increasing the purchase intent of viewers. In addition, branded content sites boost both favorability and brand awareness, two factors that are especially crucial to advertisers. Branded content is particularly effective in the 18-34 age group, forming positive opinions and being overall more responsive to branded sites. Online Publishers Association’s President Pam Horan concluded, “In nearly every category measured, ad effectiveness scores on branded content sites were numerically higher than on the web in general, on portals or on ad networks. Branded-content sites have a notably greater impact at the points where consumers are establishing brand preference and making purchase decisions.”
Overall, branded content has the power to help enrich a company’s ability in incorporating product placement in their entertainment, which results in an enhanced company and product image, an improved retail presence, better consumer relationship, and boost sales.
In 2009 Frantic Branded Content, out of Winnipeg, Canada partnered with ad agency TAXI and commercial production company Soft Citizen, to produce the branded entertainment television property 'Commercial Break'. In this commercial directing reality program, the advertising and the advertising business is the content.
In 2010 Red Bull partnered with British branded content specialists Gramafilm to produce "Way Back Home" with Danny MacAskill. The film featured Danny MacAskill performing a variety of incredible bike tricks across Scotland and interestingly only featured a fleeting glance of a Red Bull can (held by MacAskill and not even showing the Red Bull branding). The 8 minute film generated more than 20 millions views on YouTube and was shared 2 million times across social networking sites and became Red Bull's most successful media campaign to date, winning Webby Honors, Viral Video Awards and generating more than 2 million hours of brand engagement.
In 2011 Morgan Spurlock released his documentary film, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, which aimed to reveal to the public how the film industry not only focuses on releasing successful, entertaining films, but also how it heavily relies on advertising to fund the production of the films. As a result, the industry is increasingly attempting to blur the lines between what the viewer sees as advertising and what they see as entertainment.
In 2012 Scripted launched a content marketing service to help brands create custom content from a pool of freelance writers. As a result, small and large companies including Verisign expanded their use of multi-channel branded content, including blog posts, press releases, and social media posts.
Although research significantly shows how successful branded content can be, there are also some risks involved. It is imperative that a company produces branded content the correct way in order for it to be as effective as possible. First of all, a company has to make a commitment to producing branded content. If a company expects positive results, they must also expect to invest their time and money in producing well-made branded content. Producing one short branded content film is simply not enough and follow up films are a necessity. As in traditional advertising, it is important for companies to ensure that their branded content is aimed towards its target audience. Along with this, it's important for a company to make sure that they are not breaking product placement regulations. However, if a company is able to successfully avoid all of these obstacles, branded content can be the most effective marketing tool they have ever put to use.
See also 
- Branded entertainment
- Integrated media
- Permission marketing
- Experiential marketing
- The Hire
- As the Cookie Crumbles
- Naomi Klein, No Logo
- No. 5 The Film
- Fat Actress
Further reading 
- Sponsors Now Pay for Online Articles, Not Just Ads April 7, 2013
- "The Great Depression Helps Radio". Retrieved 17 October 2011.
- Pena, Willie. "Is Branded Content The Future of Online Marketing?". InteractMedia.
- Annunziata, Vincenzo. "Branded Video Content all the way...". Retrieved 3 December 2011.
- Marken, G.A. "Andy" (2006). "Branded Entertainment". Public Relations Quarterly 51 (4): 2–3.
- Atkinson, Claire (14). "Testing The Boundaries of Branded Entertainment". Advertising Age 79 (15): S–12–S–18.
- Hampp, Andrew (26). "In this year's upfront, it's all about branded entertainment". Advertising Age 79 (21): 1–34.
- Hackley, Chris (December 2008). "Branded Entertainment – Product Placement and Brand Strategy in the Entertainment Business". International Journal of Advertising 27.5: 924–925.
- "Commissioned Research:Milestone Attitudinal Consumer Study". Retrieved 19 October 2011.
- "Branded-Content Sites Deliver Better Ad Results". Watershield Publishing. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
- Ritchie, Kevin. "TAXI Gets Into Reality With Commercial Break". Retrieved 3 December 2011.
- Media, Unruly. "Viral Video Chart". Unruly Media. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
- Awards, Webby. "Webby Honoree 2012". Retrieved 30 July 2012.
- Hampp, Andrew. "Old Spice Tops Ad Age Viral Video Awards". Ad Age. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
- Film, Grama. "Danny MacAskill X Gramafilm X Red Bull". Gramafilm. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
- Elliott, Stuart. "Film on Branded Content Examines a Blurred Line". Retrieved 24 September 2011.
- Tsotsis, Alexia. "Freelance Writing Marketplace Scripted Signs for $700k". Techcrunch. Retrieved 2012-07-05.
- "What is Branded Content and are brands taking advantage of this area of sponsorship?". Retrieved 19 October 2011.