What is Branded Content anyway? And what do the Futurists have to do with it?


Designer: Fortunato Depero

So what is Branded Content anyway? A heated discussion has been stirred up to define it (a panel in NYC recently traded some pretty harsh opinions on the lines of “I have the greatest respect for….but really they are quite wrong on this”). There is a vocal school that says without “storytelling” it doesn’t qualify as branded content. But this is all taxonomic twaddle IMHO. What does it matter what it’s called?

Lavazza coffee has sponsored The Guggenheim Museum’s terrific show of the Italian Futurists. Is this branded content or is it a sponsorship? I did not care one way or the other as I recharged my batteries with a very fine double espresso in Frank Lloyd Wright’s always-inspiring rotunda – and I am sure the Lavazza CMO was happy to have me “engaged”. I will be associating the Gug and Italian Futurism with Lavazza coffee – and vice versa – for some time.

The Guggenheim show was also associated with Campari – as the curator includes Fortunato Depero’s groundbreaking ads and a wonderful bottle design. So I wandered out after my Lavazza coffee with an aperitif already in mind. Was this ad – or bottle – now branded content? Was it branded content all along? Had Campari paid to put their designs in a museum show? Who cares? It made for great content that is a distinctive element of the Futurists’ story, and it sure was branded.

If Charmin’s CMO understands that I will think kindly of his squeezable product if he/she gives me an app that points me to the nearest bathroom – then who cares whether that has enough storytelling component to be called branded content? (“That’s not content, it’s a utility,” cried the semantic partisans) Or if Jagermeister wants to meld my evening selfies with my friends’ pics into a music video just for us – then do we need to worry whether that is called branded content or user generated…or whatever? What we need to worry about is whether I am an appropriate target for Jagermeister and if this would be fun and whether I will be happy to share my probably embarrassing video with yet more Jagermeister likelies. And that goes for me whether I am a Jagermeister drinker (Campari and soda please) or its CMO.

So really CMOs – don’t worry about the definitions – think of it all in terms of your customer and where they are and what they will latch on to, what will move them. Don’t worry whether the tactic is called an event or a promotion or whether the sponsorship is gamified or whether you should be providing a useful service or telling a classically structured story. Just be sure that the tactic fits into your overall brand story – who is the brand, how does it fit into the consumer’s life and so on. Each piece of content does not have to tell the whole story – just as a single selfie is just one dot in the larger tale that is me.

So then what is branded content? Here’s a definition that makes sense to me: “Branded content is any content associated with a brand in the eye of the beholder.” (This from Oxford Brookes University with Ipsos MORI as cited in The Best of Branded Content Marketing).








by Michael Pollock