By Khushboo Sharma Solanki
Branded content is rapidly gaining ground in the advertising landscape. Branded content refers to content produced or paid for by advertisers’ brands. Unlike advertising which focuses on hard selling, branded content informs, educates and inspires target audience through emotional storytelling. The goal of branded content is generally to create awareness and brand recall rather than driving sales through conventional ads. Conventional ads are generally seen as intrusive and suffer from high abandonment rates. A report from The Brandgym points out that 84% of Internet users ignore mobile ads. They watch a 15-second ad for just 5.5 seconds and a 30-second ad for just 7.4 seconds. On the other hand, branded content captures the audience’s attention by subtly weaving a branded narrative with a narrative. According to a report from Forbes, branded content improves recall by over 59% compared to digital ads and increases consumers’ chances of exploring this type of content by 14% after a single impression of branded content. The best example of branded content was the launch of Coke Studio on MTV in partnership with Coca Cola. The concept was a runaway success with Season 9’s “Afreen Afreen” garnering over 200 million views on YouTube.
The centerpiece of branded content is immersive storytelling. This form of advertising resonates with millennial audiences who are not likely to watch soap operas or be wowed by commercials. Branded content has a head start over traditional advertising as it strives to create a deep impact on the community or involve them in an extended narrative. A USC Annenberg poll found that 4.5% of communications professionals rely on branded content for their campaigns and 67% predict that their clients’ budget for branded content will increase in the future. The reason is obvious; the brand can not only communicate its value proposition, but also demonstrate and bring the audience to life with an experience using the branded content.
As 2021 approaches, the changing economic scenario and consumer tastes and preferences will shape the trajectory of branded content. Here are some trends we expect to dominate in 2021.
Socially responsible marketing will dominate in 2021 and ethical brands will become more relevant. COVID-19 has invariably refocused attention on ourselves and society and reinforced the need to give back to the community. Therefore, ethics will be the centerpiece of any branded content strategy and conversations about social issues, be it the environment, mental health, people with disabilities, will dominate the marketing landscape. A GWI ‘Connecting the Dots’ report highlighted that 72% of those polled agreed that COVID-19 underscored the need for businesses to behave in a sustainable manner. Likewise, a 2019 Forbes report noted that 88% of customers support brands with a social cause.
The journey of branded content is linked to that of social media platforms. Amidst user-generated content gaining traction, brands are increasingly turning to influencers, a trend that will seep and intensify in 2021. Micro and nano influencers will also dominate the scene. Instagram reels and Facebook stories created an opportunity for influencers to create content with branded hashtags.
With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, content reveling in nostalgia like memories of days gone by has become our way of sustaining optimism and getting through tough times. A joint study by Talkwalker and Hubspot pointed out that nostalgia-related social media keywords saw an 88% increase from 13 million to 24.4 million in 2020. The best example here is the giveaway campaign 2020 Gucci Christmas Hat that recreates a holiday party in an office in the 1990s. setting. The campaign is helping customers revel in the illusion of normalcy amid the pandemic. We expect this trend to continue in 2021, although it prompts a review of the strategy on lighting memories or escaping.
Transparent execution and subtle delivery:
As customers are increasingly aware and vocal about their brand choices, direct advertising is strictly prohibited. The key here for brands is to design creative formats and experiment with them to reach the target audience. Lego Movie and Porter from Net-a-Porter magazine are prime examples of brand alignment. Additionally, flawless execution by weaving a consistent brand story across all platforms will be imperative for advertisers to maintain a competitive advantage.
In a context of shrinking attention spans and the “on-the-go” consumption habits of millennials, video advertising will be the dominant format in branded content. Video advertising is proven to yield higher engagement and exposure than any other ad format. A Cisco report predicts that global video traffic will triple between 2016 and 2021. In addition, Internet users spend an average of three hours a day on their smartphones. Thus, video advertising optimized for smartphones will dominate in 2021.
The proliferation of technology, changing customer tastes and preferences, and brand innovation in the dynamic advertising landscape will ensure that branded content thrives in 2021. Staying authentic, identifying appropriate causes that resonate with the philosophy of brand and combining different formats allow brands to stand out from the clutter.
The author is the founder of Zero Gravity Communications
Also Read: How a Storyteller Helps Create an Entrepreneur’s Brand