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).