The Myth Of Branded Content
Branded content is nothing short of a punch-drunk-fighters reaction to the paradigm shifting changes in our media and consumption habits.
The rules have changed and it seems that interestingly advertisers are in a scramble to get out of the ad spot and into content generation. Soap operas were sponsored by... errr... soap companies. P&G bank rolled commercial telly. One way or another, I think Northern Exposure was one of theirs.
Photo credit: Olga Shelego
And just so you don't think that this is the first wave of branded content. L'Equipe, the Parisian based daily sports newspaper invented the tour de France to sell more newspapers. Now that's branded content with a pinch of engagement thrown in.
But where are people going to view this branded content? When? And, more importantly WHY?
Content generation is not like advertising. It is not the same channel it's not the same ecology, it's not really in the same universe.
But its not only that that has changed, the structural nature of consumption of information and content are in a state of flux - Significantly, we are entering a world where content will be increasingly delivered through internet and internet-mobile-protocol-based networks that are non-linear, on-demand and entirely self-scheduled. In that world, the viewer - not the broadcaster - whoever that may be, will decide what is consumed, when, and how.
For advertisers, many brands and media companies, this is all a bit too much too soon. It's like one day playing in a 3-guitar-chord-band and then being asked to perform in a 12-piece group with some challenging melodies and rhythms, with the cast of performers constantly changing.
What am I trying to say?
Simple - it's different.
We are in a transition from interruption to engagement, giving up control vs. controlling to "extract" value from our consumers to get them to crap cash. Because that's what consumers do right?
Well not anymore.
I think we have zipped past the cul-de-sac of "branded entertainment" on the superhighway of user-generated flows of communication.
Don't believe me? Well in Finland we have just had the world's first mobile network karaoke. Mobile "civilian" Idols contest, running simultaneously as the Finnish Idol.
Tomi Ahonen my co-author says:
"Is this not going to be huge everywhere? In Finland 1,682 people sent in their songs. They sang them on the mobile phone, like leaving a voicemail. Then listened to it. When happy they submitted.
Then OF COURSE there was a vote by the public. 150,000 people listened to these horrible songs and voted on the winner. The total campaign generated 1.95 MILLION sessions of listening to what must amount to the sounds of killing the cat. And yes, this generated more interest than the official site of the Finnish Idols TV show.
And why not, this is even more reality than the reality TV show. I hate it and I love it."
This is the creative moment. This is how we do something really different. This is how we do funky business vs. a Karaoke (copycat) approach to marketing.
And, history tells us that once you have stormed the Bastille, you don't really want to go back to your boring day job. In this instance, the day job is the consumer as an uninformed, unconnected, passive, ignorant, non-participative, controlled individual who will happily consume her appointment to view programmes whether they be genuine pieces of programming or whether they be yawn-generating "branded content."
Let me tell you a dirty little secret.
Liberated consumers are doing it for themselves. For gods sake it's more fun to join in, unless of course you can commission, and, generate something as powerful as the BBC's Life on Mars.
Moreover with the emergence and convergence of the mobile phone and the internet we suddenly have immediate access to our peers, our friends, our colleagues and family members. We are getting used to living in a connected age where we naturally and increasingly draw on our participation in various networks for assistance, information and support.
The language of our post-modern culture is one of :
Photo credit: Judi Seiber
The language of our post-modern world is not broadcast-branded-content shoved on a pizza-size plate onto our dinner tables that we consume passively. And then go upstairs to crap some more cash.
Companies are from Mars, Customers are from Venus
The problem for businesses and marketers is that traditional marketing has become in the eyes of everyday people, adversarial. Customers have changed and adapted to this new always-on, always connected, media fragmented world, where they seek value by searching, where they are not waiting for you to interrupt them with unwanted messaging, where they look to their peers for voices of authority. They are in effect doing it for themselves.
Ebay, SMS, instant messaging and Skype in telecoms, music file sharing, Wikipedia and OhMyNews (the Korean newspaper produced by 45,000 citizen reporters), online role playing games, Strictly come dancing, the X-factor, Pop Idol, myspace.com are all examples of how enabling or capturing peer-to-peer information flows can transform business models.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
As Kevin Kelly argued in Wired Magazine, peer-to-peer flows of information and communications, unleash involvement and interactivity at levels once thought unfashionable or impossible. It transforms reading into navigating and enlarges small actions into powerful forces.
And this clearly has far-reaching implications for business.
We have gone from a world of "push", of command and control to a world of "pull" of engagement and participation.
Many existing corporations have been built as rigid hierarchical structures, which was required in a command and control world. For a while it suited us and delivered exponential value for many years.
But our world has changed.
Living in a postmodern world means that we have to leave our industrial mindset in the past. Our means of production have changed and also our means of consumption.
So, if companies spent the 20th century managing efficiencies, they must spend the 21st century managing experiences.
Creativity now needs to sit at the very heart of what we create, what we make and how we deliver it.
Its not about branded content, its about engagement and user generated flows of communication.
I feel the cold waves of cynicism flowing over me. OK, so why did Rupert Murdoch buy Myspace.com for the sale of the century at £600m, was it for more of the same controlled distribution that had helped build his media mogul empire over the last umpteen years?
No, Rupert bought relationships.
Let me explain what this means. Recently a gaming guru said that they no longer designed their games around content. They first build the community and then the game. In Korea CyWorld which is like Habbo hotel meets blogging has 90% of all Korean teenagers as subscribers. But, but, 30% of the entire population subscribe to CyWorld. The mantra - Relationships..... cash ..... relationships... cash...
Photo credit: Dan Colcer
About the author:
Alan Moore is the CEO of SMLXL a next-generation creative marketing company, focused on enabling businesses and brands to engage with their audiences and succeed in the 21st Century.
Alan Moore has consulted for a wide range of global brands as a creative business and brand strategist. He has worked on global integrated communication projects for The Coca Cola Company, Hennes & Mauritz, Saab, Chrysalis Television, TV2 Norway.
Alan Moore is also the author of Communities Dominate Branding, a new book co-authored with Tomi T Ahonen. "Communities Dominate Branding: Business and marketing challenges for the 21st century" is a book about how the new phenomenon of digitally connected communities is emerging as a force to counterbalance the power of the big brands and advertising (read some excerpts from the book right here).
Check also out this useful and essential PowerPoint-based presentation by Alan Moore on the key points supporting a vision for Engagement Marketing.