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Transparency in branded content: event takeaways from Facebook, New York Times and Bacardi Martini


By Ayesha Salim, Content Lead

February 27, 2018 | 5 min read

Branded content can work like magic, but full transparency is crucial if the industry wants to raise the bar for quality, agreed panelists at The Drum Studios branded content event in London last week.

The Drum Studios branded content event

The Drum Studios branded content event

It was not that long ago that Guardian Labs’ Anna Watkins said that the key to surviving the ‘adblockalypse’ lies in offering fewer, but more premium quality commercial messages and formats. As brands and publishers look to monetize content in this space, it then begs the question: what makes for great branded content? And for brands that have got it badly wrong, how can they get back on track? The Drum Studios branded content evening discussed this and more.

Know what you want, or replace ‘content’ with ‘shit’

Branded Content Marketing Association’s (BCMA) global CEO, Andrew Canter, has been figuring out this very question for the past five years. BCMA works with some of the world’s leading brands and production companies, operating in 15 markets. He said the biggest change in branded content has been that now, people think content first. In the past it was a ‘nice to have’ but now its recognised as adding value.

“Sir John Hegarty said branded content is not on a different planet. It’s about making the content entertaining for your target audience. This is the age of branded content because people do not want to be interrupted anymore by advertising,” he said.

Bacardi Martini’s global head of consumer PR and corporate communications, Lisa Jedan, in a no-holds barred fashion, said that what most people in the industry are often too afraid to say: “If you don’t know what you specifically need, or what you want to say, then you can replace the word ‘content’ with ‘shit’. Just say: ‘I just need a piece of shit’. People don’t follow content, they follow stories.”

Transparency will raise the bar for quality

For Elizabeth Valleau, global creative strategist at Facebook Creative Shop, it is the consumers who are in charge now – a new mentality that most brands are finding difficult to adjust to.

“The consumer has been given the floor and suddenly it matters what you’re doing as a brand. As a marketer, this is life-affirming. It’s such a dramatic change from the past where you could get away with being reductive and still have your marketing be technically effective.”

Valleau sees transparency being an essential piece of the pie when it comes to creating great quality branded content; it is the only way to “raise the bar for quality”.

“In the past when it was easier to mask whether something was sponsored, it caused a real sense of anxiety in the consumer. The spirit of transparency forces the producer and the sponsor to level up,” she said. “They are not going to put their name behind something that is terrible or false and misleading. By that token the audience can say, I know this is not an ad, but the content is still good and now I am having the brand affinity moment you intended me to have.”

Put the ‘story’ back into storytelling

Global editorial director of T-Brand Studios, New York Times, Nelly Gocheva, echoed Valleau on transparency, adding it is important to “keep the church and the state separate”. She also talked about the importance of educating the industry on not being afraid to openly declare their sponsored content piece – as good content will speak for itself.

“If the content is great people will still interact with it. People come to us because we are a trustworthy news outlet and do not want to be misled. Good branded content is about the story and we need to put the ‘story’ back into storytelling."

She added: “Nowadays, we are very spoilt when it comes to innovation and technological advancements and the way we tell these stories. But we still have to start with a good story.”

For more insights from the panelists, watch the video below.

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