AdWeek Review: Content. Branded.

As AdWeek nears its conclusion, we wanted to feature a panel that caught our interest. Titled “Content. Branded.,” executives from AOL, Machinima, The Weather Company, CBS Interactive, Senga, Univision, and Electus were all on hand to discuss their experience with different types of sponsored content across several different platforms and mediums.

Immediately there was unanimous consent that Red Bull is winning the branded content game. Red Bull Stratos, Red Bull Signature Series, their sponsorship of the America’s Cup, and their dedication to extreme sports were all billed as the present gold standard, and it introduced a concept that would shape the theme of the discussion: content that’s produced from start to finish, in house, that’s designed for core users or fans, is always going to succeed, even if it’s blatantly branded.

Another example: a State Farm sponsored segment on automobile safety on a car show. It was so informative and well-filmed that viewers gladly welcomed the State Farm logo in the corner. When the content is on point and well made, viewers are happy to respond positively.

A more subtle example is Biggest Loser. Billed as a reality show, the panel agreed that marketers should instead look at it from within: the Biggest Loser is a two hour, weight-loss experience. Thus, Biggest Loser-themed exercise Wii Games, Subway sponsorships, and other exercise themed branding fit into the show, and offer those watching important value. And even if NBC cancelled Biggest Loser tomorrow, the brand would still exist through the content. So if you can create content that will live beyond any natural demise, marketers will always be able to leverage the brand’s equity from beyond the grave.

The obvious question, though, was about the buzzword-of-the-moment, Native Advertising. How does it fit into this category? The distinction, according to the panel, is important: “Branded Content” is the never-been-done before content curated by the brand itself, while “Native Advertising” is the deep dive into things we do on a daily basis.

Think about it like this: If you’re going into someone’s home, you have to become familiar with those people, their home, and their lifestyle in order to be a good, welcomed visitor; this visitor is Native Advertising. On the other hand, Branded Content is the package that the family has been eagerly awaiting for weeks, and when the delivery arrives they burst running out of the front door to grab it out of the truck.

They’re two valid strategies for driving engagement, but you’ve got to do each of justice in their own rights. Ultimately, it comes down to establishing a relationship, both between the brand and the creative studio and the brand and the consumer. If you establish your niche, your “unfair advantages” in your market, and create compelling content that viewers are going to want, with or without the brand attached, you’re going to have a successful campaign.