Media Perspective: Branded content is great in theory but whatabout reality?

It's hard to keep track of an audience for which, in the words of Naked's John Harlow in last week's Campaign, "media such as iPods, games and mobiles dominate". Especially, if like me, some of your favourite media moments involve such old-man things as watching fly-fishing on Discovery.

That's why last week's report from contentworx (another in the plethora of content businesses set up by former media agency people - in this case, Media Planning Group's Andrew Canter) threw up some useful findings on the media consumption, or lack of it, of 18- to 24-year-olds.

But there was some good news for advertisers. Encouragingly, the survey, of 1,000 adults, showed that this age group is far more open to "entertaining content" funded by advertisers than is an older demographic. Some 61 per cent are willing to watch this funded content in the age of ad avoidance and personal video recorders. Less positive for advertisers, the survey found that this target group is the most determined to avoid traditional ad breaks.

The report is pretty self-serving - it's headlined "viewers migrate away from the TV set, but turned on by advertiser-funded content". But it does manage to pinpoint the importance of finding new ways to reach younger audiences. An obvious but difficult issue for many advertisers.

Ad agencies are clearly taking this issue seriously. Saatchi & Saatchi is the latest to jump on the advertiser-funded programming bandwagon with its Gum launch aimed squarely at young, urban consumers.

Yet, cut through all this noise and it's still hard to think of many examples of genuinely stunning branded content. I'll freely admit that I probably haven't seen much of the cunning, well-produced stuff that targets the real cutting-edge youth audience and it's hard to expect advertisers to compete with the likes of the BBC's £2.47 billion programming budget.

However, when, as so often, the media or content agency justifies a move into AFP with words like "it's much cheaper than traditional advertising", you just know the results will be disappointing and the audience disappointed.

The findings from contentworx suggest that unless the majority of content vastly improves, it will alienate this hard-to hit audience. Oddly enough, there is now much happening outside TV, especially in radio, with the likes of Sony PlayStation trialling some interesting links to content and even specific artists. And there is always good old interactive advertising, where some of the best branded content can actually be found behind the red button.

But investors in most sorts of branded content are still faced with the issue of getting young viewers to watch their material in the first place.

At least, though, as these latest findings show, they might not be as cynical as you'd expect.

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