David Hayes - Branded Content & Why it is Important

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David Hayes - Branded Content & Why it is Important

What is branded content and why is everyone talking about it?


Put very simply, it is content that a brand has a close association with. It can be sponsored, advertiser funded, product placement or native. It can be short form, long form, video, static imagery or text. It is effectively any brand communication beyond the traditional 30 second spot. So why is everyone talking about it? There are three key reasons why; the growth of ad avoidance, the scarcity of attention, and the growth of commercial messaging. All three reasons are combining to make it more difficult to get peoples’ attention.

There is a view – whose view I am not sure – that there is an unwritten contract between the consumer and publisher which states that consumers are given free content in exchange for watching advertising. Unfortunately the rapid growth of ad blockers has put that assumption firmly to rest. According to the 2015 Pagefair Ad Blocking Report, penetration of ad blockers in Ireland had reached 18% in early 2015, growing by some 82% year on year. If growth continued at that pace, penetration today could stand at 33% and be over 50% by next year. Earlier in the year, Mobile Operator 3 infuriated publishers with the announcement that they were introducing ad blocking software to its mobile devices in Italy and the UK. The plan was to rapidly roll out across other markets in Europe, presumably including Ireland. We are potentially facing a future where mobile – the fastest growing platform/medium – could be an ad free, or at the very least, a heavily ad filtered environment. 

However, despite what may happen, at the moment the average person living in a city is exposed to 5,000 commercial messages every day. This is up from 2,000 thirty years ago, which is actually unsurprising when you think about it. Mobile in particular, has expanded the amount of time people spend consuming media, driving it up from 8 hours five years ago, to 10 hours now. Social media, a relatively ad free environment a couple of years ago, is now stuffed with commercial messages, as indeed are most other media. The reality is that no one has ever woken up with the desire to consume this amount of commercial messaging. Even before ad blockers, consumers had already begun the journey of either consciously blocking ads through a remote control or sub-consciously via mental filters. TGI data states that 44% of consumers agree that PVRs such as Sky plus has changed the way they view TV. 

It would be untrue to claim that TV or indeed other forms of advertising have stopped working. Advertising effectiveness studies and brand sales data both continue to show that advertising continues to have an appreciable impact on brand sales, albeit that this impact is declining over time. However, the consumer and the environment within which they consume commercial messaging, has changed considerably and this is having a profound impact on how we meaningfully communicate with them. Attention spans are declining. According to Microsoft research in Canada, the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2016, which is shorter than a goldfish (9 seconds). The study also found that those more digitally active, social media enthusiasts, multi-screeners and early adopters of technology, struggle to focus in environments where more attention is required. In other words, the more media and commercial messaging that people are exposed to, the less opportunity you have to grab their attention. 

Smart advertisers recognize the need for change. As all the evidence suggests, it has never been more critical to tell the brand story in an engaging, involving and collaborative way, and never has there been so many opportunities and channels to tell that story. The rise of technology, digital media and in particular social platforms, means that we have an abundance of brand opportunities with which to tell our brand story. Native advertising is booming. Content integration, product placement and digital influencers are becoming the favoured approach for many looking to build their brand. Content, in all of its iterations and formats, allows us to extend the brand story beyond the 30 sec spot, the 48 sh poster, or the digital banner. It allows to continue the conversation, drive deeper engagement and deliver more consumer commercial opportunities.

However, there is an abundance of content out there vying to grab those precious few seconds of consumer attention. So while content is a great way to communicate with consumers, it has to be engaging, interesting and relevant, and it has to tell a story. As we all know the pace of change is relentless. Today is the slowest pace of change we will experience for the rest of our lives. We can’t keep doing the same things and hope that they will produce greater or even the same results. We have to think differently to produce greater return. Content, done well, offers that opportunity.

David Hayes - Branded Content & Why it is Important