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Branded content (also known as branded entertainment) is a form of advertising that uses the generating of content as a way to promote the particular brand which funds the content's production. Often utilized in native marketing, and somewhat similar in appearance, though different in technique than content marketing, branded content typically presents itself as something other than a marketing ploy first, albeit simultaneously and always presented as a highly branded property and often labeled as "sponsored." Contrary to embedded marketing, where the brand is placed within the content, branded content places the content within the brand. Unlike conventional forms of editorial content, branded content is generally funded entirely by a brand or corporation rather than studio or a group of solely artistic producers, and is used in film, video games, music, the internet, events, installations and television.
The concept of branded content dates back to the early era of broadcasting; many early radio and television programs were controlled by their sponsors and branded with their names, including the Colgate Comedy Hour, Hallmark Hall of Fame, and Westinghouse Studio One. Typically, the sponsor coordinated the entire production of the program, with the broadcaster only providing studios and other infrastructure. These programs featured segments that promoted the sponsor's products, including appearances by a brand's spokesperson, and demonstrations of new products. Notable spokespeople often became celebrities in their own right, such as Betty Furness, a B-movie actress whose fame was elevated after becoming a spokesperson for Westinghouse appliances on Studio One (Furness would later work as a consumer affairs reporter for WNBC-TV in New York City). Many melodramatic serial dramas targeting a female audience, such as As the World Turns, were produced by the consumer goods company Procter & Gamble; their heavy involvement in the genre led to them being dubbed "soap operas". The Revlon cosmetics company famously sponsored the quiz show The $64,000 Question; when it became one of the most-watched program on U.S. television, the Revlon company became a household name through its prominent promotion.
However, in the late-1950's, the quiz show scandals exposed that several major quizzes had been manipulated or outright rigged under demand of their sponsors, in order to maintain viewer interest and high ratings. Testimony by a producer of The $64,000 Question revealed that Charles Revson, Revlon's founder, had personally exerted control over the program in order to favor specific contestants. More infamously, it was found that two shows--Dotto and Twenty One--had rigged games due to similar demands by sponsors. The aftermath of the scandals, as well as increasing production costs due to the rollout of color television and other factors, prompted networks to assert creative control over the production and scheduling of their programming, rather than having them be controlled by their sponsors. Broadcasters also phased out of the "single sponsor" model in favor of allowing sponsors to purchase blocks of time during breaks in a program to run commercials instead.
Conventional product placement and cross-promotion still appeared in films and television, although it was often argued that overuse of placements can distract from the entertainment value of the work; the film Mac and Me was widely-criticized for containing frequent integration of Coca-Cola and McDonald's as major aspects of the film's plot (going as far as crediting the chain's mascot Ronald McDonald as appearing in the film "as himself").
After releasing its hockey-themed film The Mighty Ducks, Disney established a National Hockey League expansion team known as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, which was named in reference to the film. Disney subsequently produced two Mighty Ducks film sequels, and an animated series inspired by the team set in a fictional version of Anaheim; the films and cartoon also featured cameos by Mighty Ducks players. These works bolstered the Mighty Ducks by placing additional content within its brand, and created synergies between the team and Disney's core entertainment business. The NHL in particular felt that the Mighty Ducks cartoon could help to promote the game of hockey among a younger audience, and counter the stereotype of hockey being associated with Canada and the U.S. northeast. Team merchandise, which was sold at Disney Parks and Disney Store locations in addition to the NHL's main retail channels, were the best-selling among all teams for a period.
In 2001, automaker BMW began a marketing campaign entitled The Hire, in which it produced a series of short films featuring A-list directors (such as Guy Ritchie) and talent that prominently featured its vehicles. The films were advertised through television, print, and online marketing which directed viewers to a BMW Films website, where they could stream the films, and access ancillary information such as information about their featured vehicles. BMW also distributed the films on DVD with Vanity Fair magazine to increase their distribution among the company's target audience; by the end of the campaign in 2005, the eight-film series had amassed over 100 million views, and several of the films had received both advertising-related and short film awards. .
The recent increase in branded content, however, including growths in product placement and native marketing techniques, are due to the essential nature of the modern age. Recording devices that allow viewers to skip through commercials have made traditional television advertisements marginally ineffective, thus prompting the turn away from the "in-your-face advertorial", and towards integrated marketing styles.Today, marketed content has grown to include sponsoring events, creating video games, and creating online webisodes. As the cord-cutting movement continues to pick up speed, and companies constantly struggle to maintain viewership during ad breaks, these sort of partnerships are becoming more essential to advertisers. Famous modern examples of branded content campaigns include the multiple Red Bull Air Races and other campaigns, most recently including the Space Jump.
In 2003, the Branded Content Marketing Association was formed in order to promote branded content to a wider, international audience. In January 2008, the BCMA conducted a study intending to analyze the efficacy of branded content compared to traditional advertising. Reportedly, over one-third of people were skeptical about traditional ads, and only one-tenth trusted the companies producing such adverts. The study concluded that "in the overwhelming majority of cases consumers preferred the more innovative approach compared with traditional advertising". Over 95% of the time, web sites that feature branded content were more successful than web sites featuring typical advertisements, and are 24% more effective at increasing the purchase intent of viewers. Branded content is most effective in the 18-34 age group, who tend to react with more positive opinions and being overall more responsive to branded sites. Online Publishers Association's President Pam Horan concluded, "In nearly every category measured, ad effectiveness scores on branded content sites were numerically higher than on the web in general, on portals or on ad networks.
These positive results, however, having come from an organization which endeavors to promote the marketing practice, are subject to criticisms of bias.
Webby and Lovie awards among other had recognized Branded Content as a category in prior instances, but most awards within the advertising community officially began to grow to include branded content in 2012, when "Branded Content/Entertainment" became a category at EuroBest, Dubai Lynx Spikes Asia and Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.