Modern Marketing Brand Purpose Brand Strategy

How branded programming can capture attention in an on-demand era

By Ben Padfield | Managing Director & Executive Producer, RWD Films & RWD Studios

Redwood BBDO


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September 26, 2022 | 7 min read

In an increasingly on-demand media landscape, Ben Padfield at Redwood Films say that brands must write themselves into a bigger story to capture and keep the attention of audiences.

Boy using handheld device

The answer to capturing viewers' attention may be obvious - but how can brands cut through once they have it? / Tarun Savvy via Unsplash

We live in a hyper-connected world. With smartphones holstered, modern consumers are painted as content cowboys competing in a quick-draw contest with itchy trigger fingers. You can understand why. Social media is increasingly focused on the short form, whether through Twitter’s character limits or short-form content on TikTok and Instagram.

For a while, marketers thought that the rise of short-form media reflected a shortening of our own attention spans. An infamous Microsoft survey made headlines by suggesting that, since the turn of the millennium, our attention spans had shortened from 12 to 8 seconds.

While this has been proven false, it inadvertently highlights a real learning. It isn't about our capacity to pay attention; it's about desire. It's not about our brain's inability to concentrate, but its increased ability to focus faster, sift quicker, and determine value more brutally. Our attention span isn’t dwindling. It’s becoming more demanding.

Big screen thinking

Today’s rules of engagement are simple: if you want an audience's attention, you need to earn it. It’s not just about spreading content across channels and how quick you are to grab their attention. It’s equally about the value you can deliver once you have it.

This is the fundamental difference between advertising and branded programming. It's predicated on finding plausible mutual interest and is defined by choice, not length. The appetite from audiences for world-class, long-form content watched on their own terms is evidenced clearly through the prolific rise of streaming services.

The streaming war has exploded choice for consumers, while dissolving many barriers to getting long-form content on screen. Over 80% of UK consumers streamed using paid services over the last year, but while this increase in consumption creates greater opportunity, it also poses a series of more fundamental questions.

While research shows you only need six seconds to deliver your message, shouldn’t we be asking how we can make something audiences want to immerse themselves in for longer - instead of how long we have before they switch off?

The need to answer this is particularly pertinent with the rise in on-demand viewing, the move toward subscription-funded services, and other 'dark channels' where audiences are increasingly consuming more content in spaces ads can’t reach (or aren’t as effective).

While ads continue to play a vital role in helping brands say what they need to say, the content world has evolved too much for that alone to be enough.

Show, don’t tell

Advertising will always be a powerful way for brands to share their message. But to be effective, those messages need to inform a wider narrative. Audiences are more active and empowered than they’ve ever been, highly attuned to cutting out things in their lives which add no value, and leaning heavily into those that do.

The art of commercial filmmaking is to tell stories that enrich the lives of audiences. Branded programming creates a way for brands to do exactly that. By writing the brand compellingly into a story bigger than itself, audiences are more likely to choose to watch it as entertainment, not skip it as marketing.

Contrary to the constraints found in other marketing arenas, the opportunities for brands here are vast. Documentaries remain the fastest-growing, most consumed and most commissionable form of film.

Add to that the potential of the social-first, short-form entertainment format and the audience allure of guided reality, and you can see how there have never been more ways for brands to engage their audiences creatively by telling better stories.

Creating better

Brands will always be driven by a short-term product metric, and short-form media will always be an answer to that. But increasingly, brands must wrestle with the greater expectations from their audiences. To stand for something more; to use the platform they have to achieve more.

By thinking like media creators as much as media buyers, brands can craft stories that resonate. But it is not simply an exercise of producing longer, branded content. It’s an art that takes a different type of team, one proficient at writing for the audience and seamlessly weaving a brand partner into a narrative in a way that doesn't negate editorial integrity or entertainment value.

That's our philosophy at RWD Films, and it's how we produce powerful stories that grow brands in an on-demand environment; a content landscape driven by choice and trust. Getting it right allows us to tackle the biggest challenge of them all: how to take a world that’s always watching, and get them to choose to watch what you’re making.

Modern Marketing Brand Purpose Brand Strategy

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Redwood BBDO

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