Content is a growth industry. Speaking recently to The Sunday Times, ITV's Adam Crozier said: "The demand for content has never been higher. It's a $50 billion market globally, growing at 5-6 per cent a year. Whether you started life as a fixed telephony company, a mobile provider or an internet company, what differentiates you is what content you have on your service."
Where's all that content going to come from?
There was a discussion at the Festival of Media a couple of years ago about whether it was a brand's job to make content. I'll admit that I didn't really take to this language particularly. Call me old-fashioned, but I think a brand's job is to sell stuff primarily. But, without a shadow of a doubt, branded content has a role to play in driving sales. We don't just consider advertising with all its strengths and weaknesses as the alpha and omega of the media plan. A comms plan can be more effective when it includes branded content as long as we are clear about how paid, owned and earned media work together and so long as we make sure that it is accountable.
At a recent debate at the Royal Television Society chaired by Campaign's editor, Claire Beale, the possibilities of branded content were debated. Claire pointed out that TV was originally funded by branded content – soaps are called soaps because they were funded by soap manufacturers. She played a Flintstones episode with cigarette endorsement that probably helps to explain why the UK has never allowed such blatant association of brands and TV programmes. Do watch it - it works on so many levels.
I made it clear that we are still massive believers in advertising, but every answer to a client brief now considers the role of content in addition to or instead of advertising.
Producing branded content is still not as simple as it could and should be. There are fewer benchmarks in the public arena and bigger promises made about videos "going viral". There are more disappointed branded content managers out there than there should be. Basing your entire campaign on earned media alone is like betting your budget according to the horse-racing tips on the wireless.
Tiffany Rolfe, the chief content officer at Co:collective, has blogged some comments overheard at a judging panel. They are all worth bearing in mind as content comes to gain a well-deserved place on the media plan. These include:
"It's like they made this for someone in prison" – ie. those who can't escape. Just because you can go for longer than 30 seconds doesn't mean you should.
"Look, a video without a hashtag!" How unusual. There are only so many hashtags even a millennial can take.
"I'll never get that three minutes back."
On a more positive note – laughter and tears. If you can tap into a universal human emotion, you are on to a winner.
Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom