From Branded Content to Branded Channel

The “Advertising is dead. Long live branded content!” post addressed a topic that covers a number of discussion-worthy issues, especially considering that the relationship between audiovisual content and brands, which started developing almost 100 years ago, is as strong and complex as ever.

The Procter & Gamble brand is a perfect example of this relationship. After inventing the concept of brand management in the 1930s, the soap manufacturer developed and produced programs for radio, and later on for television, which came to be known as “soap operas.”

Over the span of more than 70 years P&G Productions created 20 soap operas. The company put an end to this run in 2010 by cancelling its last surviving show, As The World Turns, 54 years after its first broadcast.

Since then, P&G Productions has become P&G Entertainment (PGE), a division of P&G that focuses on creating original multiplatform content.

PGE’s mission is to produce content that resonates with consumers and increases brand loyalty, such as the very successful “P&G, proud sponsor of moms” campaign whose various clips reached close to 25 million views on YouTube even before the 2012 Olympic Games had kicked off.

This initiative is the exact definition of branded content as explained by Forrester Research. Forget paid advertising, sponsorships and product placement. Branded content is content developed – or chosen – by a brand to reinforce its image and its relationship with consumers.

At least that’s what the series The Hire was supposed to do for the BMW brand. So did the show end up selling more cars for the German automaker? It’s hard to tell because BMW never officially released any data on the subject. However, in his book Life After the 30-Second Spot, marketing consultant Joseph Jaffe performs advanced calculations based on production costs ($14 million based on certain estimates), the number of views per episode (13 million) and the number of subscribers to the service (2 million) to estimate the cost of each web episode at $3.50 per viewer as opposed to $5.46 per viewer for a TV message. It’s impossible to isolate and measure each point of contact that could’ve led a consumer to decide to buy a BMW while watching the show but, as Jaffe points out, it’s also impossible to assign a value to the very strong possibility that people who do buy BMWs may have based their decision on the significant impression watching the series (and films) made on them.

Branded content: the future is multiplatform

Today’s technology enables brands to imagine a truly direct link between technology itself and a consumer’s purchasing decision.

That’s what Amazon was experimenting with in 2003 with its Amazon Theater, a series of four short films posted online during the Holiday Season (and that can still be seen on YouTube). Some of the stars listed in the credits included certain products used in the films that were available on Amazon.com. All you had to do to order was click on their name as the credits rolled on.

Like BMW, Amazon never officially released the results of their “experiment,” but the fact that they’ve never repeated it probably means it didn’t work out as well as they had hoped. And we can safely assume that broadcasting these films on just one platform, a platform that is not even dedicated to video viewing, may have had something to do with the project’s failure.

Thanks to technologies that make broadcasting content across various platforms and devices easier, today’s brands can set roots in the media ecosystem as full-fledged media companies.

This explains why American Express launched the AMEX Channel in November 2012. And thanks to agreements the credit company has entered into with five pay-tv providers (AT&T’s U-verse service, Cablevision, DirecTV, Dish Network and Verizon FiOs) and connected TV manufacturers LG and Samsung, the on-demand offering is available in over 50 million households across the US.

The AMEX Channel is an interactive channel that offers information on card products and benefits as well as promotions, games and original content (such as the exclusive broadcast of a performance by The Killers, for example). American Express and tech partner BrightLine – a company that specializes in the development of applications for interactive advertising – see this trial as a major step forward in the world of advertising and “advanced” television. At the very least it’s a first step towards television commerce, also known as “t-commerce.”

It may seem like the original concept of “soap operas” has been completely forgotten, but the basic premise of branded content remains the same: guide the decision-making process of consumers by offering them an emotional experience that leads them to identify with a brand and creates a relationship with this same brand. What is changing, thanks to technology, is the way in which this bond is created and strengthened. The link is established in a direct manner on all the broadcasting platforms we use on a daily basis from smartphones to the good old TV set in the living room.

So what has become of soap operas now that the major brands who gave them their start have abandoned them? Well, in the true pioneer fashion that led them to migrate to the leading cultural media at the time (from radio to television), some of them have landed on the webwhere they are currently broadcast on Hulu and Hulu International.

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