Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Masterchef, Transformers and the Chocolate Factory

Audience fragmentation, an 'on-demand' model, ad avoidance, terrorists! What a scary media landscape we live in. It is mos def branded content's time to shine. But the truth is, since the first licensed toy was born in 1930 (via the humble Mickey Mouse doll), we have all grown up on branded content.

Contrary to popular belief, branded content is not about creating a 30+minute commercial, and it doesn't mean meeting logo exposure quotas in-program. It simply refers to the fundamental shift in approach to communications planning; from placing our ads around the content our target audience loves, to becoming the content that our target audience loves. But whilst the philosophy and the buzz term "branded content" feels relatively new, branded content has been rampant since the Willy Wonka Candy Company was launched alongside the first film adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic children's book.

Cast your minds back, if you will, to the 1980's; aside from being a great time for hair and audio reverb, it was also (and more relevant to this post) somewhat of a golden age for branded content. Gen Xer's, do you remember eating your Coco-Pops to this little number?

In hindsight, Transformers is an obvious example of branded content; and so you can explain to your friends why, here's a brief history (courtesy of reputed branded content textbook, Wikipedia):
  • 1974 & 1980 - Japanese toy company Takara launches Microman and Diaclone toy-lines (respectively).
  • 1983 - Tokyo Toy Fair - Hasbro toy company product developer Henry Orenstein 'discovers' Microman and Diaclone.
  • 1984 - Hasbro re-brands the toy lines under the new name "Transformers" and launches the new range alongside an animated series and comic book (produced by Marvel Comics)
Hasbro had previously trialed this three-pronged approach with G.I. Joe, but it wasn't until Transformers that it became the proven successful model that would be replicated through the 80's onwards; from Spiderman and Xmen to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Pokemon. In fact, a huge chunk of 80's and 90's cartoons were actually branded content built around this model: 

It is a model and a language that has been built into the Gen Y and Gen X brain, and as we have grown up, it has been able to successfully translate into broader categories. Whilst not branded content in its purest form, the Coles / Masterchef partnership is probably the best recent Australian example. With the launch of the Masterchef magazine, and with Coles completing the loop in a physical product sense, we see the same model used by Transformers and pals all those years ago:

So unless this was a model sent back through time to change the future for one lucky Japanese toy company, branded content is not some scary new beast that must be tamed (like some kind of fire-breathing elephant with a troubled past). Given we were raised on it, it shouldn't be hard for advertisers to understand; and if done well consumers don't need to understand it, i.e. as long as they are getting what they want out of the content it doesn't matter if it's branded or not (and in reality the distinction between the two is not clean-cut). 


  1. Interesting stuff. I’m reading this with my digital hat on, but I wonder if there are examples where brands can harness the power and connectedness of the internet and its various touch points to execute a truly modern example.

    People love collecting stuff. They also love showing off to their mates, (it’s what Foursquare and Facebook status survive on), so what about a brand using these insights to create a physical product that also generated them online currency and kudos?

    As you’ve already talked about toys, let’s stick with that and take the latest action figure (or collectible toy for adults as little kids are unlikely to have super-hot tech) and imbed an NFC chip which could be activated at certain time to reveal new comic book content (written in HTML 5 of course) but only during a 1 hour window on a certain date which is communicated through forums and TVC etc. This would generate a huge amount of excitement with this audience and would also give them the status and respect they love from their peers and network as they share their new found information.

    Just one idea but it gives branded content a new twist whilst keeping the model intact. Technology is an incredible facilitator, especially if used in the right way but it needs brands with vision and a bit of bravery to make it happen!

  2. Come and join us at Ensemble!! Both of you :-)

    Another great early example include Popeye (originally established to promote and increase demand for spinach)

    The main issue at the moment is the distributors (read broadcasters) ongoing reluctedness to adopt brands producing/funding or even inspiring content. It's going to happen...and I think we are near the tipping point