NYC TV Week: In Branded Content, Let the Medium Fit the Message

Complete Coverage: NYC TV Week

New York – When developing branded content, programmers and advertisers alike should be wary about messages that would appear to conflict with the channel’s editorial message, a panel of experts said at the B&C Advanced Advertising event on Oct. 17.

In a discussion led by Vertere Group founder and CEO Tim Hanlon, several experts in the content and distributor field weighed in on the burgeoning field of branded content, adding that while the dollars associated with advertiser-sponsored shows can be alluring, a badly constructed message can do more damage than good.

On the good side, Sandra Szahun, VP of sales and marketing for The Weather Channel, said that advertisers and producers are increasingly on the same page when it comes to developing branded content that aligns with the editorial mission.

“The Weather Channel is known for trust,” Szahun said. “If you can bring a client into your space and tell a story that works within that context within that audience, that is really best.”

As an example, Szahun cited TWC’s relationship with Dodge Ram trucks. When there is a weather event, Ram trucks come in and clean it up.

“They are very subtly branded throughout the piece,” she added. “It’s a story that has value for the audience, it’s informative, it’s entertaining. Really that’s a win at the end of the day.”

Where the struggle between sales and editorial comes in is with less endemic clients, she said. 

"That’s when you have to be really creative and have great relationships,” Szahun said. “My favorite brands and agencies to work with have an open mind to the subtle way of leaving something in thematically. At The Weather Channel we talk a lot about climate change or ways to change the world. So many brands can be worked into that story, that’s really a win instead of somebody [wanting] Jim Cantore to hold up a can of Coke and drink it. It’s getting creative working around how to meet their goals and yours.”

But where does a brand cross a line? Szahun said it depends on the product and the content. For example, Duracell, which has spent dollars, time and resources to help communities hit hard by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, wouldn’t be out of bounds sponsoring programming dealing with that disaster.

“There are certain stories to tell when brands are doing good, putting a spotlight on them,” Szahun said. “In other ways we can create an opportunity for them to do good. We can go back after the storm and have a brand or a partner help to make something better. We are very careful about that because trust is everything. The newsmakers at The Weather Channel definitely hold the line when it comes to working with us, but there’s a lot of grey room where you can win.”

ShareRocket CEO Chris Kraft added that branded content doesn’t have to be intrusive, it can be as subtle as running a logo bug at the bottom of a screen during a broadcast and interstitials. He added that he has some clients that integrate their brands into the sets of some broadcast shows.  

“How you integrate, as long as you follow the rules, is really up to you and the client,” Kraft said. “What’s cool about this deeper level integration is, you can’t skip these. It’s not a video termination unit. The brand and the advertiser sponsor is imbedded in the content.”

The danger sometimes comes from brands that aren’t used to producing content who insist on producing it.

Sharethrough head of market development Frank Maguire remembered a client who was trying to promote the fact that its product was made with Quinoa, and created videos of kids eating food.

“It wasn’t until the two minute mark that they revealed that it was made with Quinoa,” Maguire said. “We suggested to them let’s put that message closer to the forefront. Most people are not going to watch two minutes of these kids eating food. Let’s get to the point.”  

SocialFlow CEO Jim Anderson said that while that can be a problem, most clients understand they should leave the creative aspects to creative people.  

“If you can get past the hype of ‘I’ve created my own newsroom,’ or ‘I’ve got a new agency that convince me that people really want to hear my story,’ I think deep down most brands that are not very interesting know they are not very interesting. That’s why they are coming to media companies,” he said.

Read More:Complete Coverage of the Advanced Advertising Event