Opinion

Branded content: money or brand spinner?

Josh BlackIn this guest post, Josh Black responds to recent comments from the global head of content at candy company Mondelez International that content needs to make money, not just build a brand.

In a recent presentation at the AANA Reset Conference in Sydney, Laura Henderson, Mondelez global head of content and media monetisation, suggested that brands need to be making a profit from some of their content to pay the production bills.

Mondelez have set a target of 10% of their brand-funded content paying for itself by 2020. It needs to be reiterated that Henderson is only referring to 10% of the content, meaning the other 90% performs another role for the brand.

No doubt, 10% is an ambitious goal, but not a huge stretch from the company that brought us the iconic ‘Gorilla’ Cadbury advertisement back in 2007.

And the recent ‘Heaven Sent’ piece of content that saw a man jump out of a plane at 25,000 feet and descend to earth without a parachute.

One could argue that brands should focus on making great products and services and that, ‘studio quality content’ should be left to the publishers and studios that have this as their core business. There are arguably very few examples of brand-funded or brand-produced content that consumers would agree en-masse meet this standard.

However, in a world that will see even more media fragmentation, complexity and uncertainty, I have no issues with brands attempting to create ‘hero’ content that entertains to a point that someone would put their hand into their pocket and pay for it. In fact, I encourage this brave approach and wish more brands would go there, but only, if they stay true to this form of content creation – the content needs the right intent, backing, form and quality otherwise consumers will continue to reject it and nobody will pay for it. Importantly, it also needs to put the audience first and understand that integration only works when it truly adds value.

More and more brands understand this and are either choosing to avoid this form of ‘hero’ content (knowing they can’t embrace these terms and conditions) or they are boldly venturing into the space and ignoring the advice. There are a handful of brands that have accepted the rules and are getting the results from this form of content and Mondelez wants a seat at this table. Whether they succeed or not will entirely depend on how brave they are and how audiences accept what they are producing.

There are broader questions that brands should be considering as they walk down the content path:

1. What’s the Role of Content for My Brand?

All forms of brand marketing need to have a clearly defined role in how they drive consumer purchase, which is different for every brand, product and service. One brand might use TV Advertising to drive mass awareness, whereas another brand might use it to demonstrate how a product works. Both, at different points, ultimately attempt to push a consumer through a purchase funnel or along a purchase pathway which results in an eventual sale. Similarly, short form video content might be used by one brand to highlight a purchase intent trigger, but another brand might use it to drive a repeat purchase transaction. Others might use long form video content to tell a story or build a need for a product or service. There is no singular role for content – it’s all about what the brand needs from that marketing tool at a point in time. The same need is there though – whilst content may be used at different points of the purchase funnel or purchase pathway, it should still ultimately push a consumer along that funnel or pathway to a point where another form of marketing can do it’s job in continuing the drive to make a sale.

2. How Much of This Sort of Content Should I Be Producing?

Different brands need different sorts of content at different stages of the purchase funnel. I’m a big fan of the ‘Hygiene – Hub – Hero’ model because it starts to simplify how brands can begin approaching content. Whilst Mondelez may not be using this tool exactly, they are saying that 10% of the content needs to be so watchable that people will pay for it (that’s the ‘Hero’ content). The other 90% performs another role for the brand and you can call that the Hygiene and Hub content. That type of content might demonstrate product use in the form of a tutorial or product recommendation or it might tell a short story about an aspect of the brand – nobody is going to ever pay to watch that sort of content and that’s fine – it’s an important part of the marketing mix though.

Summary

Mondelez, like every other brand, does have a need for content that works at different points of the purchase funnel to drive consumers to make an eventual purchase. They’ve made the decision that their brands also need to also focus on creating content that is so entertaining, compelling and unique that someone would put their hand in their pocket and pay to watch it.

The ‘would I pay to watch this’ test is the absolute benchmark we should be applying to the ‘hero’ content that brands attempt to create. Again, not every brand needs ‘hero’ content, but when they do set out to produce it, this should be the litmus test.

Whether Mondelez are successful in doing that will largely be determined by how much respect they pay to intent, backing, form and quality. It’s a brave new world and we need more advertisers like Mondelez putting their hands up and committing to producing content audiences want to watch because if they can achieve that, we’ll all be far better off.

Josh Black is CEO of GroupM Content Asia Pacific

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