OPINION: Branded content: the fine line between awesome and awful

29 October 2013

It doesn't take much to tarnish our perceptions of a brand. It could be a negative comment from a friend, an underwhelming customer service experience or as is the subject of these next few paragraphs, a questionable piece of communications.

It used to be fairly easy to control what a brand put into the world, but the desire to be always on and to populate various owned channels has resulted in increasing volumes of brand created content being published.

While it’s clear that branded content is an area of the industry that is improving and there are many cases of quality work (just look at what Chipotle has done in recent years), I am still struck by how many major brands are releasing content that can only be described as amateurish. In fact I often find myself cringing at the performances and production values. These are big brands that are asking us to trust their technology or the brilliance of their product yet they are releasing content that portrays them as lazy and unsophisticated.

Attempts at fictional content seem to be the worst offenders. Creating longer form fictional content for a brand can be a dangerous space with brands often resorting to mockumentary style executions. The thinking being that this approach enables the product to be featured but in an entertaining way. What they fail to realise is how difficult it is to get these things right. Mockumentary shows like The Office are obviously popular and may look deceptively simple to create but that is far from the truth. Their brilliance lies in the subtlety and nuance of their execution, and the quality of the writing. They walk an incredibly fine line between being awesome or awful and really are something only very few people are skilled enough to deliver.

I'm not suggesting brands should stop making lower cost content, but I do think that along with their agencies and production companies they should think carefully about what they can execute well within their budget. In many cases some of this content is having a negative impact on the brands they feature. As someone who loves the opportunity to create communications outside the typical above-the-line channels this is a wake up call for me.

Paul Swann
Creative Partner
The Works

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