We live in fast changing times for branding, marketing and advertising. As more and more of us use recording devices that let you skip TV commercials, along with ad-blocking software online, how does a brand get its message across?
One increasingly popular strategy is to use branded content. From sponsored magazine articles to online webisodes, music videos to short films, this kind of content is so entertaining, informative and engaging that consumers are happy to view and share it of their own volition.
The marketing message may be upfront or almost invisible, but that not what's important. It's all about making people want to see it, rather than being forced or tricked into seeing it.
With Facebook recently dropping its restriction around how branded content can be distributed, the approach is only going to become more prevalent in coming years. Here we look at some of the best examples of branded content in the 2010s so far.
01. Newspaper article: Netflix
With the number of people willing to pay for newspapers and magazines falling, old media needs to find sources of revenue. But a move to the web has largely seen print pounds swapped for digital pennies. One way to boost income is to run sponsored articles, yet matching the right marketing message with engaging and informing content can be a tricky business.
This New York Times article, Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn't Work, hits exactly the right note. Sponsored by Netflix's 'Orange is the New Black' – a hit drama series about a women's prison – the longform read is fascinating, relevant and elegantly presented. Interactive images, a captivating video, and strong journalistic content all add up to a great article that ticks all the boxes for both brand and reader.
02. Music video: Honda
OK Go is an alternative rock band from Chicago who are known for their funny and creative music videos. And their video for 2014's 'I Won't Let You Down', which debuted on NBC's Today Show, put a whole new spin on product placement.
In it, the band members cavort around on Honda's UNI-CUB self-balancing unicycles, and represented a massive PR coup for the company. Although there's no actual mention of Honda, the video on YouTube – which has so far had more than 28 million views – links to interactive website, allowing people to see behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and information about the Honda UNI-CUB itself.
03. Print magazine: Net-a-Porter
As one door closes, another opens. And with traditional publishers reluctant to launch new magazines, companies are fast stepping in to fill the vacuum. One of the most critically and commercially successful to date has been fashion retailer Net-a-Porter's magazine, Porter.
By combining access to the website's audience data with global magazine market intelligence, the company has been able to target the magazine's content with laser accuracy, and achieve a circulation of around 150,000, outselling many traditional fashion magazines and even coming within spitting distance of Vogue.
As well as making money from the $9.99 cover price, Net-a-Porter has put a lot of effort into making sure the bi-monthly title also drives retail sales. For example, readers are able to scan a print issue with the Net-a-Porter app, and immediately arrive at the relevant purchase page, making for a seamless shopping experience.
04. Viral video: Dove
Dove's Real Beauty campaign stems from research suggesting that only four per cent of women would describe themselves as beautiful. This short video highlights this gap between perception and reality in brilliant fashion.
A sketch artist creates two drawings of a series of women. One is based on their own description of how they look; the other based on a stranger's description. The discrepancy between the two highlights powerfully how inaccurate women's own views of their beauty are.
With 170 million views on YouTube, this was the most watched online branded content of 2013 and the third most shared branded video. While it says nothing about the qualities of the product itself, the campaign got the world talking, and Dove has been part of that conversation – boosting sales massively in the process.
05. Radio station: Pedigree
Content marketing isn't just about print, TV and online: broadcast radio remains a powerful and popular medium, and fertile ground for branded content. But perhaps the most unlikely example comes in the form of a New Zealand radio station for dogs.
K9FM was based on advice from pet experts that people should leave the radio on when they leave the house, to keep their dog company. But rather than a normal radio station, Colenso BBDO Auckland thought, why not one tailored to dogs themselves?
The agency created hours of original content to play all day, every day on the channel, including discussions on topics like 'The Frisbee: Voodoo, Magic, Science?'; a sports section called Fetch in the Park, and a thought for the day entitled 'Chew on This'. K9FM received more than 1,000 phone calls from dog owners during the first two weeks of broadcasting, and within the three months of the campaign, Pedigree dog food enjoyed a three-year sales high.
06. Short film: Procter & Gamble
The makers of Tampax, Procter & Gamble, wanted to place puberty's profound impact on girls' confidence into the media spotlight. So they commissioned this short documentary by filmmmaker Lauren Greenfield, which approaches the topic via the phrase 'like a girl'. A series of interviews show that for young children, 'like a girl', means to do something well, whereas for teenagers it means to do it ineffectively.
The fourth most viewed ad in 2014 on YouTube, the video was followed up in 2015 by a more positive film offering proactive solutions. Featuring Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams, 'Unstoppable' encourages girls to smash limitations set on them by society, which are visually interpreted as boxes stamped with prescribed roles for girls.
07. Feature film: Lego
You know you've succeeded at branded content when people are having so much fun, they don't even notice they're being marketed to. The hilarious and surprisingly clever Lego Movie earned a worldwide total of over $469 million, all the while promoting Lego to a new global generation of kids – proving that when you get branded content right, everything really is awesome.