Editorial: Branded content need not be a foreign country

Branded content is advertising's final frontier. It is unconquered territory and ripe for colonisation but, as yet, inhabited only by a few pioneers, none of whom have done much more than stick a flagpole in the ground. So why aren't the wagon trains rolling faster? In the UK, a firm regulatory system has kept them in check, although the Ofcom boss, Stephen Carter, has indicated the rules will be relaxed to allow ITV to sustain its investment in programming.

Perhaps also there is an ambivalence among the creative community about branded content. After all, ad people are TV viewers too and there remains a widespread discomfort that the integrity of programmes will be compromised if the boundaries with advertising become too blurred.

Whatever the reason, it's now clear the branded content phenomenon is here to stay. As Mitch Kanner points out on page 30, changes in media planning make it economically imperative. Commercial TV's declining effectiveness, the burgeoning technology that allows viewers to zap ads and the growth of the internet and wireless communication are making it ever harder for advertisers to get in under the radar. Product placement works, but only to a limited extent. Much of it doesn't get noticed and measurement of its effectiveness remains problematic.

Inevitably, the rising importance of branded content to advertisers will give rise to fears it will become a Frankenstein monster that cannot be fully controlled. Only a clear set of rules about what is and is not acceptable will stop this. After that, the challenge for agencies is about taking the initiative and not allowing media owners and content producers to fill the vacuum. Certainly, the risk is that control of branded content slips from the grasp of creative or media agencies and into the hands of anybody thought capable of delivering a message which strikes a chord with consumers.

The good news is that agencies can offer reality checks to clients. The truth is, branded content cannot work in isolation. It has to be supported by other activity, be it TV, print or the internet, or it risks being a waste of money. At a time when branded content remains a foreign land no-one has yet laid claim to it, the opportunity for agencies to take it over and make it their own has never been more obvious.

Tesco knows what its customers want

Protests about censorship will doubtless grow more strident in the wake of Tesco's decision to move men's magazines such as Zoo and Loaded on to higher shelves. But Tesco didn't get where it is today without having a feel for what its customers want and what they will reject. When Tesco speaks, it would be stupid for publishers to turn a deaf ear.