Double Standards: 'Most content that is funded by brands is shit'

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 02 August 2012 07:30AM

In today's always-on world, brands need to give less thought to the social media platforms themselves and more to creating engaging content that sits on them.

Sav Evangelou: executive creative director at Kitcatt Nohr Digitas

Sav Evangelou: executive creative director at Kitcatt Nohr Digitas

SAV EVANGELOU - EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR, KITCATT NOHR DIGITAS

- Which agencies can most convincingly claim to own the branded content space? Media, TV production or advertising?

It depends on what is meant by "own". Historically, ad agencies have always understood audiences, or deep human motivators, and media agencies have owned the paid-for touchpoints. Meanwhile, TV production and publishing have always specialised in creating unadulterated, entertainment-driven, mass-reach content. From adland's perspective, the most important question is not who owns branded content, but who owns the target audience - and that has to be the creative agency. My money's on the emergence of a hybrid model: TV and publishing working alongside creative agencies. As it stands now, traditional agency models are too siloed to claim branded content all for themselves.

- What has changed in terms of media ownership and aggregation that requires a new approach to branded content by agencies?

You could argue that media ownership has been democratised to such a level that ownership is now in people's hands - literally - whether a remote, tablet or smartphone. To reach these audiences, brands can often skirt the media owner and go direct. This lowers the costs of entry and makes branded content a more open-access medium. But it requires a different approach - one that understands consumer behaviour and media experiences.

- Are portals such as AOL, MSN and Facebook challenging agencies by pitching their own content strategies to brands?

The portals may own eyeballs but they're smart because they work in conjunction with agencies to generate ways in which brands can enter people's lives without compromising their values. Their huge user base, tied to their lifestyle editorial specialism, means they're supremely placed to create content-driven activity, but agencies will always steer brand and campaign strategy: a happy medium that retains editorial integrity. This means there is a lot of collaboration. When you think that Facebook could hit one billion members this year, the reach of the biggest portals is phenomenal. They are like the new broadcasters. But it is not in their interests to jeapordise this scale by becoming too brand-centric. They need agencies to help them harness the opportunity of branded content, but in a way that protects their audiences.

- This year, Cannes had its first dedicated category for branded content. Did it tell us anything about where this emerging sector is heading?

Absolutely. It showed that our industry is comfortable playing away from home, not in paid-for media slots but in established programming (whether fictional or documentary) or in ways that transcend the "messaging at" broadcast model, whether interactive or user-generated. We saw awards for brands that add value in society and show they can be a force for good. Branded content is a natural way for this to grow. It shows that commerce-driven content need not be the antithesis of "pure" editorial, which holds dear the old Reithian remit to "inform, educate and entertain". Branded content can not only be good, but do good too.

- There is a lot of confusion about what branded content actually is. Describe it.

You could argue that branded content is an old storytelling model, made modern for a content-savvy world. I don't mean that people reject advertising. It's more that the surfeit of stories means they have to be more selective and, ultimately, only the best stories win. Branded content provides this narrative, making sense of brands in people's lives. It brings brands alive and maintains their personality. It is the reality of the always-on brand surviving in an always-on world.

MARK EAVES - FOUNDER, GRAVITY ROAD

- Which agencies can most convincingly claim to own the branded content space? Media, TV production or advertising?

No particular corner of the agency world owns it right now. Those who can consistently create, and then brilliantly execute, the idea will lead the field. Simple as that. The problem is that both the entertainment and advertising industries are still very siloed, so few entities can convincingly cover all bases, nor work together in the ways required. It's partly a generational problem but, thankfully, there's a new breed of hybrid creative talent emerging.

- What has changed in terms of media ownership and aggregation that requires a new approach to branded content by agencies?

There has been too much talk about social platforms, without deep consideration of the creative editorial assets needed to bring them to life. Turning diagrams into interesting, multiplatform stories is the big priority now.

- Are portals such as AOL, MSN and Facebook challenging agencies by pitching their own content strategies to brands?

Some are. But providing just strategy, or a platform, without brilliant execution is a fairly pointless exercise. Something great still needs to be created. When technology can be harnessed to create a richer experience as part of that, then all the better.

- This year, Cannes had its first dedicated category for branded content. Did it tell us anything about where this emerging sector is heading?

It tells us that awards companies are a good business to be in right now. But, seriously, it does illustrate the anxieties of an industry desperate to be recognised in this emerging field. And that, in turn, makes Cannes the new global creative battleground for our sector - so bring it on. Judging by the entries, it also shows that the US is still about five years ahead of the UK. But some of us are chasing fast.

- There is a lot of confusion about what branded content actually is. Describe it.

That's because the industry is drowning in turgid Powerpoint charts and buzzwords. First, there's no such thing as branded content. There's just good content and bad. Content is simply something that gives people value - whether it be entertainment or utility. Inevitably (but unacceptably), most that is funded by brands is shit. But some of it - a small but inspirational percentage - isn't.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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