Branded Content | Glossary

Branded content is a paid promotional strategy that has proven successful in the digital marketing era. By joining forces with a well-known business, branded content can build awareness and attract new customers for companies or social media influencers. The key to branded content is to partner with an advertiser that organically fits with your brand and values. Creativity is also encouraged as marketing teams continue to come up with unique and cleverly branded content campaigns.

What Is Branded Content?

Branded content is the marketing material you create in partnership with an advertiser that shares your company’s ideals and values. Branded content offers benefits to both parties in the partnership. For the advertising company, the resulting content often doesn’t feel like advertising, as it effortlessly captures audience attention. In return, the party who creates the content has an opportunity to align with a successful brand and tap into its audience.

Not all advertising partnerships qualify as branded content. Traditional advertising, such as commercials, banner ads, and pop-up ads, is typically not classified as branded content. Product placement deals are in a separate category, too. Instead, branded content has the following features:

  • Narrative storytelling techniques that make the content feel like entertainment
  • Content that connects with audiences authentically, without sales tactics
  • Promotion of brand values instead of specific products or services
  • A reduced emphasis on corporate identity, with more focus on brand personality

What Are Some Examples of Branded Content?

Here are some of the most successful and innovative branded content campaigns:

Apple TV+ and The Morning Show

When Apple joined the crowded streaming market in 2019 with the launch of its Apple TV+ service, the company did very little traditional promotion. Instead, Apple relied on advertising for its first original program, The Morning Show, which featured subtle references to Apple TV+ and Apple products.

As audiences gained interest in the show, they organically researched Apple TV+ and how they could subscribe and watch. Hollywood Branded said Apple’s efforts took “branded content to a new level” by creating “its own marketing machine.”

Dove and user-generated social media content

Dove is well-known for several successful branded content campaigns, all of which harness the power of user-generated content on social media. In particular, Dove’s 2019 “Show Us” campaign encouraged women proud of their unique features to post photos with the hashtag #showus. Dove received an overwhelmingly positive response.

The campaign generated massive amounts of influencer content that spread goodwill for the brand. Dove compiled some of the most popular responses for YouTube videos and print advertising, none of which promoted a specific product.

Zelle and Vox

The digital payments network Zelle received overwhelming negative publicity in early 2022 when the U.S. Federal Trade Commission reported it had received more than 2.8 million fraud complaints about the service in the prior year, with losses of more than $5.8 billion. Shortly after that, Zelle teamed up with the media company Vox for a series of articles, videos, and social media posts known as The Science Behind Scams.

This branded content campaign helped educate Zelle users on how and why fraud occurs — and how they can keep their money safe. No part of the campaign specifically promoted Zelle or its services, but it did help repair some of the damage to its brand, and it was well-received by audiences and watchdogs.

Birkenstock and The New York Times

The sandal company Birkenstock countered long-held public opinion that their products could be ugly, thanks to an effective branded content partnership with The New York Times in 2022. A three-part documentary series called Ugly For a Reason explores the nature of human feet and how Birkenstocks are designed for foot health over style.

Capitalizing on the credibility of The Times, Birkenstock called the campaign a serious “journalistic investigation into the foot.” Audiences enjoyed the documentary series, along with related social media posts featuring informative infographics and testimony from doctors and scientists.

Branded Content Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some of the most common questions about branded content:

What is the purpose of branded content?

Branded content strives for brand recognition by connecting organically with audiences. Whereas traditional marketing and advertising tend to focus on specific products and driving sales, branded content uses storytelling in various media to foster goodwill for a particular brand. It’s perhaps most effective when two brands that share the same values collaborate on a project. When it’s successful, both parties benefit from the arrangement.

Which formats can you use for branded content?

As the examples above show, you can use any format or medium to deliver branded content. Some of the earliest branded content success stories resemble Dove’s use of social media, and campaigns that generate user-created content on social media are still effective. However, branded content can take the form of YouTube videos, documentaries, series of articles or blog posts, or just about any other form of content.

How can you avoid being “salesy” in branded content?

Branded content is successful when it least resembles traditional advertising or marketing campaigns, so it’s important not to have a “salesy” tone. The best way to accomplish this is to approach the creation of branded content as an artistic product, one that the audience would enjoy regardless of who created it.

Branded content should never be product-focused or even brand-focused. Think instead of what the consumer would like to see and let them organically build a relationship with the brand.

Are social media influencers the best way to create branded content?

Many past social media campaigns successfully used influencers to promote goodwill for a brand. These campaigns were often very subtle and appeared organic, even though the influencer was paid to promote the product.

However, Meta and other social media companies now enforce strict rules about paid promotion, which require social media personalities to disclose advertising partnerships. This may take away from the organic feel of a branded content campaign. You should always read the social media platform’s guidelines for sponsored content before planning such a campaign.

Check out these other Scripted resources for more info on successful content marketing:

Getting the Most out of a Sponsored Content Campaign

How to Create the Perfect Social Media Post

Content Writing Services to Power Your Content Marketing

Content Marketing 101: What is a Content Writer?

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