'It ends with a jaw-drop, not a pointless endline'

In terms of enabling brands to engage with - rather than talk to - consumers, online content can have an edge over traditional advertising, two experts say.

MO SAHA, creative planning director, pd3

- Why is branded content more than just a viral now?

In a pathological and marketing sense, "going viral" simply describes how something rapidly circulates around the human body or the internet. It is not a type of content, it's just something that happens to be the right kind of content. Or the wrong kind of infectious agent. Put simply, it is all about how the content is designed to be infectious, shareable and provide social fuel. There are certain rules of engagement that can be learnt through testing and learning, such as the YouTube Time - a one-minute video on YouTube seems like five minutes in real time. It's not all logic, of course, and it's our job as agencies to create the magic. The very first viral videos were cheaply made on lo-fi equipment. Consequently, agencies aiming to create their own authentic "virals" would studiously downgrade their material to make it look real. What "branded content" represents is the understanding that online video content can have exactly the same production values as TV and feature films. Branded content really represents a reaction to the change in the transaction of TV/video advertising: I will watch three minutes of advertising in return for 27 minutes of the programming I want to watch. This transaction blows apart if a 20-second pre-roll precedes a 45-second video of a kitten playing darts. This is where branded content enters stage left.

- Why is consumer engagement online so important?

Better, faster, cheaper broadband and mobile phone data plans plus social media to pass things on has given us the canvas. However, we still need to paint an interesting picture to get people to take an active interest. It's about creating discussions and enabling discovery through the fragmentation into niche online interest and social groups.

- Why is branded content so successful in offering this?

You can't control what is being said about a brand in social media but you can work the system so that you put entertaining content out there that people will enjoy and share. Give people a reason to have a nice conversation about you. This isn't about creating ads, rather a "thing", as Nik Roope of Poke describes the indescribable. These "things" don't end with a packshot or a pointless endline, rather an emotional reaction. We go for the jaw-drop.

- What can branded content offer clients that other online advertising media can't?

Primarily, it's giving something to a viewer that a pre-roll, banner or TV ad can't. It's quality time spent with the brand, sharing an experience - whether fact, fiction, comedy, tragedy or anything in between. Brands are defined in the mind of the consumer by the choices they make - it's about what the brand actually does, rather than what it says it does in an endline.

- How is social networking affecting branded content?

A little bit of the cool rubs off. I have a couple of friends on Facebook who constantly have the best videos, funniest pics and the most interesting links. My friends are the schedulers and they guide my viewing.

LUKE AVIET, managing director, Advertising UK, AOL and Goviral

- Why is branded content more than just a viral now?

Out of the initial idea of viral came the much broader concept of video content. Essentially, the days when a client's highest ambition was to reach two million people and make them laugh have gone. However, the days of being able to create content that achieves success throughout the marketing funnel - from the big ad that builds awareness through to the product demonstration or the instructional video that adds product value and customer loyalty - are very much here. Branded content allows companies to communicate directly with consumers, when and how they want to. Being always available to consumers is a huge draw for clients and branded content allows this.

- Why is consumer engagement online so important?

Advertising online is about time and attention, two things that the modern consumer often has very little of. Hence, in the online world, where the user is in charge, you have to recognise the trading game. In order to command attention, you have to offer users something that adds value to their world and that they want to spend time with - whether it is entertainment or relevant information.

- Why is branded content so successful in offering this?

Video is a snackable, shareable way of telling stories - and as humans, we all love stories. Stories are hardwired to our DNA. Online, as a multimedia platform, is now repeating the story of traditional advertising formats - just like in the old world, audiovisual content is superior at engaging users in a brand experience and in evoking an emotional response.

- What can branded content offer clients that other online advertising media can't?

Display ads and paid search may deliver a lot of impressions and clicks, but their scope for pushing the boundaries of how we engage with consumers is severely limited. They were built for the first and second wave of the internet; the future is all about distribution over destination, and video is the most portable thing we have. Branded content is the bridge between reach and performance; no other online format offers this at its core.

- How is social networking affecting branded content?

Video in its very essence, through being easy to post, is social and shareable, so why wouldn't it find a perfect home on social networking sites? Videos can help users reaffirm their relationships with people on their social network, or become a useful piece of shareable content, whether it is for fun or business. Video has the potential to be the glue that holds advertising on social networks together, allowing us to actively participate in the dialogue rather than pushing our way into conversations through a tiny 150x100 pixel ad space on the right of the screen.

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