Advertisers are looking for new ways to cut through to consumers.
Ad-loads, and the proliferating channels, create less engaged, passive listening, and even turn-off. Station loyalty is decreasing, and the fight to hook and hold on to listeners throughout commercial breaks and the hour is increasingly important.
"Branded content" was once a term that sceptical programmers ran away from. Now it raises a more positive reaction. The method releases bigger budgets, allowing programmers the opportunity to build better programmes than the day-to-day fare their finances allow.
Programme directors should be able to create great programming without any resources (including cash), but funding ensures that more ideas become reality. Working with agencies at the embryonic brief stage creates a better stimulus for programmers and ensures that all of the advertisers' needs are incorporated. It also ensures the vision and the message are understood by all parties. A radio station may even cruise on the back of a brand's credibility to improve its own kudos with the audience.
Successful branded content benefits the advertiser, the station and the listener. The only way to tick all of these boxes is to ensure a good working relationship and understanding between teams. The art is to integrate the product seamlessly with the editorial, without jarring the output.
A good example is Emap's recent campaign for Egg, GCap and Mediacom.
Radio programmers designed local and national solutions for the launch of Egg's new credit card. The 60 local stations teamed up to take part in a national event. They were able to communicate Egg's key messages and get the listeners involved in an exciting radio first. A win for everyone.
It will be interesting to see how far branded content can go. I believe we're getting to a stage where media owners will be able to design full channels for advertisers - we can already do so much more than single programme ideas.
But, a word of warning: branded content can go wrong and damage the station or the advertiser. There's nothing worse than badly designed sponsorship tags, ill-spoken commercial messages or programmes that don't fit the time-slot or channel format. Branded content cannot be shoehorned into places it doesn't belong. If the concept makes a listener turn off, everyone's failed.