Branded content: a new emerging communications ecosystem

Consumers don't care about the channels - it's all advertising to them, says the executive chairman of Karmarama.

Vice Creative: an example of a successful branded content model
Vice Creative: an example of a successful branded content model

A new communications ecosystem is emerging as all corners of the industry are now talking to clients about branded content.

Clients know content is really useful but where does it fit into the marketing mix and how does it work to assist and inform the customer journey? Meanwhile, the explosion in ad tech has created the new marketing promise – optimised content – and in doing so is forcing through a new system. 

There are many players involved across media agencies, creative agencies and media owners. I spoke at Magnetic’s event back in October on how magazine media companies, for example, have real valuable skills in editorial and can lead the production of longer form content.

However, the role of each player needs to be defined as the new system is blurring the boundaries.

Firstly, I believe creative agencies must provide the filter of creativity from a brand point of view. We can do this because we are strategic advisers to the client with creative platform thinking which should inform a range of channels.

The media agency is about understanding the technology and optimising content distribution. Their role has not been about creative strategy or content creation.

Likewise, in-house creative at media owners needs to be clearer. Advertorials have always existed, but growth in native and branded content requests from media agencies desperate to fill space in a plan is not a reason for publishers to compete with creative agencies. The creative resource adds real value specifically when creating the content that fits within their own media brands – ad agencies can’t deliver tailored creative for client in each channel.

Look at the successful work being delivered by the Tyler Brule model over at Monocle or Vice Creative. But are Vice a creative agency? No, they need strategic guidance, they need to understand the broader creative narrative – and critically, like all of us, they need to understand where they fit.

The new ecosystem is much more complicated than before – it demands humility and respect. It also requires levels of collaboration, either elected or enforced, not seen before in our industry.

At Karmarama we’ve worked very hard to support our customers in this new world. We work to develop what we call 'generous ideas' – big thinking that informs all idea distributors including consumers, the client’s own content makers, other agency suppliers and media and platforms alike. We ask who is involved in stimulating this idea? How are they all going to contribute? Is the idea going to lead to a positive sequence of actions around the brand?

This is all about harnessing the power of positive action. Central creative briefings for all parties ensure the client has sight of a single customer experience, a connected sequence of messaging around an idea. We want to start conversations that will be carried by brands, consumers, and media.

The new ecosystem needs to be friction-free because consumers don’t care about the channels – it’s all advertising to them. What is important is the consistency and the empathy woven through all communications. There are no black and white rules other than know what you don't know, self-awareness is critical, avoid over-claim at all costs, and work together more than ever before.

The new system means media owners have an opportunity to avoid being stuck in a downstream transactional media buying vacuum – a model that will not allow them or the client to harness their powerful content creation skills. They should reach out and collaborate more with creative agencies. We’re actually genuine kindred spirits, both committed to creative content excellence. 

We can get them into the sweet spot of the content need – creating desire. From what I’ve seen, media owners, like the magazine media companies, are bloody good at creating desire. And who doesn’t want to be wanted?

Jon Wilkins is the executive chairman of Karmarama