The history of Branded Entertainment — Creating additional value for the audience

A lively city intersection at night, lit by hundrets of advertising displays

Since the Barbie movie, branded entertainment has been on everyone´s lips. Mattel has pulled off a masterstroke here that overshadowed all previous marketing efforts. But what about branded entertainment in terms of non-feature film productions. Let´s shed some light on the history of branded entertainment, which started in the advertising industry.

Strictly speaking, the concept — the fusion of advertising and entertainment —, has existed for almost 100 years. Back then, it was Procter & Gamble who wanted to reach their target group of housewives with drama series produced for radio and later television, also known as "soap operas". Branded entertainment has also been familiar to TV viewers in German-speaking countries for some time: In the 1950s, Procter & Gamble also advertised their Ariel laundry detergent on TV with the advertising character Klementine. The commercials, produced in a slice-of-life style, also made use of a soap opera-like narrative (Horizont).

With the changing nature of the advertising industry and the advent of classic, inserted TV commercials, branded entertainment fell out of the focus of advertisers. Starting in the ´80s, there was a new wave. Then, in the early 2000s, driven above all by the development of the internet as an entertainment medium, branded entertainment became more interesting again for digital brand communication.

In 2001 for example, BMW commissioned a short film series called The Hire, which featured Clive Owen, who was still quite unknown at the time, and guest appearances of several other stars. It became one of the most acclaimed advertising campaigns at that time. The website which hosted the series recorded more than 100 million views and over 14 million registrations at the time. Car sales in the U.S. were up 17.4 percent in that quarter as compared to the same period the year before (BetterMarketing).

Branded entertainment has also become increasingly popular again in recent years, both among marketers and target audiences. In 2018, PQ Media reported in its Global Branded Entertainment Forecast that branded entertainment (including content marketing) is growing twice as fast as traditional advertising spend (PQ Media).

Reasons for this include our highly fragmented digital media landscape, where consumers want to interact with brands in a more self-directed way and are more likely to bypass traditional advertising. The younger generation in particular no longer feels picked up by classic advertising and is turning their backs on boring and standardized brand communication. Branded entertainment, i.e. the subtle placement of a brand or product in an entertainment format, is a good way to grab Gen Z and Co. because it offers viewers added value in addition to the classic brand message (van Loggerenberg/Enslin/Terblanche-Smit, 2021).

But what exactly is branded entertainment, and in what way is it different from other advertising formats?

Admittedly, branded entertainment initially sounds very much like simple product placement or content marketing. And in fact, it is related to these forms of advertising, but it also differs from them in certain key aspects.

In contrast to product placement, branded entertainment does not focus on a branded article, but rather on the product itself. In addition, in most cases it is a matter of publishing one's own content instead of using third-party advertising and media formats (van Loggerenberg et al., 2021; Horizont). In other words: Branded Entertainment does not buy the attention of consumers, but wins it through unique, captivating and convincing entertainment.

Branded entertainment could be described as a further development of product placement, in which the brand or company itself is responsible for the content and the resulting narrative, or at least has more control over it. Above all, authenticity also plays a role here, because the fact that the brand is a direct part of the entertainment and the value system of the protagonists matches that of the brand, also conveys a stronger sense of credibility, which is often not the case with classic product placement (van Loggerenberg et al., 2021).

Content marketing is also about content being produced and published by the brand or company itself. The difference with branded entertainment lies in the approach. Whereas content marketing is about producing content to sell a product, branded entertainment is initially all about "How can we produce good content that entertains people?" And it is only afterwards that some work is done on tailoring this content to the brand or product. So the communication approach here is not primarily focused on sales messages, but on entertainment (; van Loggerenberg et al., 2021).

What makes good branded entertainment, and what are the benefits?

The great added value of branded entertainment initiatives lies in their strategic potential. Done well, such a campaign can build an emotional connection with the target audience and thus trigger a sense of attachment, it can increase engagement with the brand and elicit a sense of community within the target audience, as well as strengthen loyalty to the brand within the target audience.

However, in order to exploit this potential and reach the audience adequately, there are some things that need to be considered in such a campaign.

The backbone of branded entertainment is the narrative in which the brand message is delivered to the target audience. There must be a clear story, told in a sincere and believable way through good storytelling practice that entertains more than it aims at commercial messaging. It must be enticing enough for the audience to voluntarily devote themselves to the content (van Loggerenberg et al., 2021).

The story must authentically convey the brand identity, values, moods and lifestyle that should be associated with the brand. Its origin should always lie in an original idea, which is then aligned with the target group and conveyed in an emotionally appealing way. Moreover, the motivation behind a branded entertainment campaign should always be honest, so that it can be perceived and believed as honest and sincere (van Loggerenberg et al., 2021).

Branded entertainment and corporate video production

As already mentioned, many media products can be used for branded entertainment. However, short films or even short series as a medium are particularly popular, as films can well be used to convey emotions and give the brand a special presence.

Here, the brand often presents itself in a self-contained, longer storyline lasting several minutes, which is intended to captivate viewers and convey the brand's identity in an artistic way.

In contrast to a classic advertising film lasting only a few seconds, the length of the film in a branded entertainment campaign allows viewers to engage much more intensely with the information conveyed and the brand, which can increase the audience's loyalty and attachment to the brand. The content and associated messages remain longer in the memory, have a longer lasting effect, and create a sustainable image of the brand in the minds of the viewers. The video medium gives the brand the space to present itself the way it wants to be perceived by the audience, to bring the company's values to the forefront and communicate them to the audience in a creative way.


Video: Dove, Real Beauty Sketches.
Video: Coca Cola.
Video: Burberry.