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In marketing, branded content (also known as branded entertainment) is content produced by an advertiser or content whose creation was funded by an advertiser. In contrast to content marketing (in which content is presented first and foremost as a marketing ploy for a brand)[1] and product placement (where advertisers pay to have references to their brands incorporated into outside creative works, such as films and television series), branded content is designed to build awareness for a brand by associating it with content that shares its values. The content does not necessarily need to be a promotion for the brand, although it may still include product placement.

Unlike conventional forms of editorial content, branded content is generally funded entirely by a brand or corporation rather than a studio or a group of solely artistic producers. Examples of branded content have appeared in television, film, online content, video games, events, and other installations. Modern branded marketing strategies are intended primarily to counter market trends, such as the decreasing acceptance of traditional commercials or low-quality advertorials.[2][3]


Early examples[edit]

The concept of branded content dates back to the early era of broadcasting; many early radio and television programs were controlled by their sponsors and branded with their names, including the Colgate Comedy Hour, Hallmark Hall of Fame, and Westinghouse Studio One. Typically, the sponsor coordinated the entire production of the program, with the broadcaster only providing studios and airtime. These programs featured segments that promoted the sponsor's products, typically featuring the brand's spokesperson and demonstrations of new products. Notable spokespeople often became celebrities in their own right, such as Betty Furness, a B-movie actress whose fame was elevated after becoming a spokesperson for Westinghouse appliances on Studio One (Furness would later work as a consumer affairs reporter for WNBC-TV in New York City).[4][5]

Many melodramatic serial dramas targeting women, such as As the World Turns, were produced by the consumer goods company Procter & Gamble; in reference to its products, this prompted the genre as a whole to be dubbed a "soap opera".[6] The Revlon cosmetics company gained significant prominence after sponsoring the quiz show The $64,000 Question—which was, for a time, the most-watched program on U.S. television.[4] In 1956, the Ford Motor Company's new marque Edsel sponsored a CBS variety special, The Edsel Show, which starred Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Bob Hope. The special was a critical success and widely viewed,[7][8] but its success did not transfer to Edsel itself, however, which was a high-profile commercial failure.[7][8] By request of Crosby, the special was credited as a production of his alma mater Gonzaga University, with its revenues helping to fund the construction of a new campus library.[9][10]

In the late 1950s, the quiz show scandals exposed that several major television game shows had been manipulated, or outright rigged under demand of their sponsors, in order to maintain viewer interest and ratings. Dotto and Twenty One were at the center of the scandal, with both shows having been accused of presenting matches with pre-determined outcomes as if they were legitimate. Testimony by a producer of The $64,000 Question revealed that Revlon founder Charles Revson had personally exerted control over the program in order to favor specific contestants. The aftermath of the scandals, as well as increasing production costs due to factors such as the rollout of color television, prompted networks to begin asserting creative control over the production and scheduling of their programming. Broadcasters also phased out of the "single sponsor" model, in favor of having sponsors purchase blocks of time during breaks in a program to run commercials instead.[11][12][13][14]

Conventional product placement and cross-promotion still appeared in films and television, but it was often argued that overuse of placements can distract from the entertainment value of the work. The film Mac and Me was widely criticized for containing extensive placements of Coca-Cola and McDonald's as major plot elements (going as far as crediting the chain's mascot Ronald McDonald as appearing in the film "as himself").[15][16][17] Hallmark Hall of Fame still occasionally aired on broadcast TV until 2014, when it was announced that the franchise would move to Hallmark's co-owned cable channel Hallmark Channel in the future.[18]

Modern examples[edit]

After releasing its hockey-themed film The Mighty Ducks, Disney established a National Hockey League expansion team known as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, which was named in reference to the film. Disney subsequently produced two Mighty Ducks film sequels, and an animated series inspired by the team set and in a fictional version of Anaheim. The films and cartoon series also featured cameos by Mighty Ducks players. These works bolstered the Mighty Ducks' brand, and created synergies between the team and Disney's core entertainment business. The NHL felt that the Mighty Ducks cartoon could help to promote the game of hockey among a younger audience, and counter the stereotype of hockey being associated with Canada and the U.S. northeast. The team's merchandise, which was sold at Disney Parks and Disney Store locations in addition to the NHL's main retail channels, were the best-selling among all teams for a period.[19][20]

In 2001, automaker BMW began a marketing campaign entitled The Hire, in which it produced a series of short films that prominently featured its vehicles, staffed by prominent directors (such as Guy Ritchie) and talent. The films were advertised through television, print, and online marketing which directed viewers to a BMW Films website, where they could stream the films, and access ancillary information such as information about their featured vehicles. BMW also distributed the films on DVD with Vanity Fair magazine to increase their distribution among the company's target audience. By the end of the campaign in 2005, the eight-film series had amassed over 100 million views, and several of the films had received both advertising-related and short film awards.[21][22]

In 2010, Procter & Gamble and Walmart began to fund a series of made for TV films, distributed through the former's Procter & Gamble Productions division, such as The Jensen Project and Secrets of the Mountain. They were all targeted towards family viewing, aired primarily on NBC as time-buys, and featured product placement for P&G brands and Walmart's store brand Great Value. In turn, Walmart erected promotional displays of P&G products related to each film, and sold the films on DVD immediately after their broadcast. Both companies used exclusive advertising time during the films to promote their products. P&G reported that the favorability of the products featured in Secrets of the Mountain increased by 26% among mothers who saw the film. Advertising Age felt that despite lukewarm reception and viewership, "as case studies for successful branded entertainment, they've become the holy grail of how networks and marketers can use entertainment to achieve scalable audiences, measurable product sales and active fan communities."[23][24][25]

The Canadian beer brand Kokanee (owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev) partnered with its agency Grip and Alliance Films to produce The Movie Out Here, a feature-length comedy film set in the brand's home province of British Columbia. The film was released in April 2013, after being featured at the 2012 Whistler Film Festival. Kokanee beer, along with characters from its past advertising campaigns, make appearances in the film, and an accompanying campaign allowed bars in Western Canada to compete to be a filming location, and users to vote on the film's soundtrack and have a chance to be listed as a "fan" in the credits. Grip's creative director Randy Stein stated that viewers had become more accepting of branded content, and that there would be a larger focus on the emotional aspects of Kokanee as a brand as opposed to the number of placements.[26][27][28] In 2018, Pepsi similarly backed the comedy film Uncle Drew—a feature comedy adapted from a character from a Pepsi Max ad campaign.[29]

The energy drink company Red Bull has relied heavily on branded content as part of its marketing strategies. The company operates several Media House studios, which coordinate the production and distribution of original content targeted towards the interests of young adults—particularly music and extreme sports. Alongside digital media content such as online video (via platforms such as Red Bull TV), and print media such as The Red Bulletin, Red Bull has also organized events and sports competitions which carry its name, such as the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, Crashed Ice, and Flugtag competitions, music festivals and events, and a skydive from the Earth's stratosphere by Felix Baumgartner. These ventures are consistent with the company's image, bolster Red Bull as being a lifestyle brand in these categories, and build awareness of Red Bull without necessarily promoting the product itself. An executive for Red Bull Media House North America remarked that the growth of digital media platforms had made it easier for brands to produce and distribute their own content, and stressed that branded content was most effective when it is "authentic" and high-quality.[30][31][32]

In 2019, the housing rentals service Airbnb premiered a self-produced documentary—Gay Chorus Deep South—at the Tribeca Film Festival, which documented a 2017 tour of the Southeastern United States by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus. The company's head of creative James Goode stated that the film was consistent with the company's values of "telling stories of belonging and acceptance", and its involvement and support in the LGBT community. Goode did not consider the film to be branded content, stating that it was an effort to "support the chorus and make the highest-quality piece of content we could."[33][34]

Some branded content efforts have not been as successful. The association football (soccer) sanctioning body FIFA budgeted the 2014 film United Passions, a dramatization of the organization's history. The film was released to negative reviews, focusing primarily on its poor writing and self-serving nature, and with many considering it one of the worst films of all time.[35][36][37] The film's North American release also coincided with the indictment of FIFA officials by U.S. federal prosecutors under charges of corruption, leading critics to point out the irony in its depiction of FIFA president Sepp Blatter.[35][36][37] The film only took in $918 in the U.S. box office, making it the worst-grossing film of all-time.[38]

Research and issues[edit]

In 2003, the Branded Content Marketing Association was formed in order to promote branded content to a wider, international audience. In January 2008, the BCMA conducted a study intending to analyze the efficacy of branded content compared to traditional advertising. Reportedly, 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".[39] 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. Branded content is most effective in the 18-34 age group, who tend to react with more 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.[40]

These positive results, however, having come from an organization which endeavors to promote the marketing practice, are subject to criticisms of bias.

Award community[edit]

Webby and Lovie awards among other had recognized Branded Content as a category in prior instances, but most awards within the advertising community officially began to grow to include branded content in 2012, when "Branded Content/Entertainment" became a category at EuroBest, Dubai Lynx Spikes Asia and Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ "Content Marketing vs. Native Advertising: Which Is More Effective on Social?". Adweek. Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  2. ^ "Consumers Coming to Accept Native Advertising Done Right". EContent Magazine. 2014-07-28. Retrieved 2015-12-17.
  3. ^ Atkinson, Claire (14 April 2008). "Testing The Boundaries of Branded Entertainment". Advertising Age. 79 (15): S-12–S-18.
  4. ^ a b Samuel, Lawrence R. (2009-03-06). Brought to You By: Postwar Television Advertising and the American Dream. University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292774766.
  5. ^ Severo, Richard (1994-04-04). "Betty Furness, 78, TV Reporter And Consumer Advocate, Dies". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-11-28.
  6. ^ Carter, Bill; Stelter, Brian (2009-12-08). "CBS Cancels 'As the World Turns,' Last Procter & Gamble Soap". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-11-28.
  7. ^ a b "Hubris, and Sputnik, Doomed the Edsel". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  8. ^ a b Foreman, Joel (1997). The Other Fifties: Interrogating Midcentury American Icons. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252065743.
  9. ^ "Stardust, Pajamas and Memories of Crooner Bing Crosby Put on Display". Los Angeles Times. 1993-08-29. Retrieved 2019-11-03.
  10. ^ "The Back 9: Things you might not know about Bing Crosby, Spokane's favorite son". The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved 2019-11-03.
  11. ^ ROSENBERG, HOWARD (1992-01-06). "A Fascinating Documentary on the '50s Quiz Show Scandals". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-11-28.
  12. ^ Goodman, Walter (1992). "TELEVISION VIEW; For $64,000: Who Lost in the Big Fix?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-11-28.
  13. ^ "Encyclopedia of Television - Quiz Show Scandals". The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 2016-10-15.
  14. ^ "AdAge Encyclopedia of Advertising: 1950s". Advertising Age. Retrieved 2017-11-28.
  15. ^ Rabin, Nathan. "Ronald McDonald Approved Case File #151: Mac And Me". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2017-11-29.
  16. ^ Harrison, Eric (1999-08-29). "Branded Into the Scenery: Commentary: Advertising is so much a part of life that it's understandable to find familiar products in films. But sometimes it goes too far". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-11-28.
  17. ^ WILMINGTON, MICHAEL (1988-08-15). "MOVIE REVIEW : 'Mac and Me' Takes a Big McBite Out of 'E.T.'". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-11-28.
  18. ^ "Hallmark Hall Of Fame Films To Move To Hallmark Channel". Multichannel. 12 September 2014. Retrieved 2018-01-31.
  19. ^ LOWERY, STEVEN (1996-04-10). "Disney and NHL Hope Young Fans Will Be Drawn to Hockey Via Animated Series". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-12-01.
  20. ^ "The Wide (disney) World Of Sports". Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved 2017-12-01.
  21. ^ "BMW Films: The Ultimate Marketing Scheme". iMedia. Archived from the original on 2020-04-01. Retrieved 2017-11-28.
  22. ^ "The Hire Film Series By BMW to End". Motor Trend. 2005-10-13. Retrieved 2017-11-28.
  23. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (2011-04-02). "Procter & Gamble Backs Another Family Friendly TV Movie/Backdoor Pilot On NBC". Deadline. Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  24. ^ Schneider, Michael (2010-02-22). "Walmart's and Procter & Gamble's family-friendly primetime gamble". Variety. Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  25. ^ "P&G, Walmart Find Success as Moviemakers for Their Brands". Advertising Age. Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  26. ^ "Labatt rolls out a Kokanee ad in the shape of a feature-length movie". Toronto: The Globe & Mail. 27 February 2013. Retrieved 28 February 2013.
  27. ^ "Alliance Films sets pic promoting beer". Variety. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
  28. ^ "Labatt takes product placement to the extreme with Kokane movie". The Toronto Star. 28 February 2013. Retrieved 28 February 2013.
  29. ^ Schultz, E.J. (5 June 2018). "See Pepsi's Ad Backing Its 'Uncle Drew' Movie". AdAge. Crain Communications. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  30. ^ "Branded content lessons from Red Bull Media House". Marketing. Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  31. ^ O'Brien, James. "How Red Bull Takes Content Marketing to the Extreme". Mashable. Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  32. ^ Higgins, Matt (2007-03-03). "Red Bull's Headlong Frozen Dash Is a Crash Course in Marketing". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  33. ^ Spangler, Todd (18 April 2019). "Why Airbnb Produced Documentary 'Gay Chorus Deep South,' Its First-Ever Film (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety.com. PMC. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  34. ^ Haring, Bruce (2019-09-16). "MTV Documentary Films Acquires 'Gay Chorus Deep South', Plans Fall Release". Deadline. Retrieved 2019-09-21.
  35. ^ a b Roxborough, Scott; Richford, Rhonda (17 June 2015). "FIFA Movie Director Breaks Silence on Bomb: "It's a Disaster; My Name Is All Over [This Mess]"". The Hollywood Reporter. (Prometheus Global Media). Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  36. ^ a b Scheck, Frank (3 June 2015). "'United Passions': Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  37. ^ a b Berry, Dan (2 June 2015). "FIFA Film: An Epic Fantasy". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  38. ^ Rife, Katie (June 19, 2015). "FIFA vanity project United Passions breaks box-office record (not the good kind)". The A.V. Club. The Onion. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  39. ^ "Commissioned Research:Milestone Attitudinal Consumer Study".
  40. ^ Marken, G.A. "Andy" (2006). "Branded Entertainment". Public Relations Quarterly. 51 (4): 2–3.