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					Published 19 May 2009

Branded Content Online: What Does The Viewer See?

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Simply 1st Floor Bentima House • 168-172 Old • London • EC1V 9BP Simply •• Bentima House • 168 - 172 Old StreetStreet • London • EC1V 9BP

Simply •1st Floor Bentima House • 168-172 Old Street • London • EC1V 9BP • T: +44 (0)20 7608 8650

Why is branded content online important?
There has always been confusion when it comes to advertising and online TV; which budget does it come out of? Pre, mid or post-roll positioning? How long should an ad be? Does the same content work off and online? And while the industry pondered the user evolved. Consumers have realised that when it comes to online they are in control. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are all struggling to find a workable model to successfully serve advertising despite having access to millions of users globally. Web users are no longer passive consumers of advertising, this is their space and their experience and if you want their attention you have to earn it. Therefore, branded content has become the buzz phrase of 2009. Rather than serving a pre-roll advert around someone else’s content, your brand has now become the content.You can offer your audience entertainment and education, it’s cheaper than TV advertising, you have longer to engage your audience and if successful can become a viral phenomenon.

What the research set out to discover.
The success of a piece of branded content is extremely difficult to determine.Viewing figures don’t tell the full story with regards to engagement, brand perception and increased propensity to buy. As the consumer is in control the guidelines for this new medium need to come from them. Simply worked closely with media specialist Work Research to devise the methodology for an in-depth qualitative study capable of understanding exactly how people think about, find and use branded content online. Key areas the research set out to investigate were: • Which types of branded content work best? • When doesn’t it work? • What effect does it have on a brand? • Does it encourage sales? • Is it perceived as advertising? • Where do consumers encounter branded content? • Does the surrounding environment impact the reaction?

Simply •1st Floor Bentima House • 168-172 Old Street • London • EC1V 9BP • T: +44 (0)20 7608 8650

To view the videos that accompany this report please visit: Why are these findings important?

This is the first qualitative study to unpick the complexities of branded content online from the viewers point of view and to outline why this area is so important to the future of online advertising. It looks at the positives and negatives of this new advertising medium and compares it to more traditional forms of advertising in broadcast and print. It looks at video from a consumer perspective and is able to suggest guidelines for creating successful content that will not only attract viewers but also increase sales.

Executive Summary
Consumers are savvy to online advertising
Across the research sample, it is evident that consumers are conscious of the many different methods of online advertising. They are also very aware that, unlike TV, they do not have to receive these adverts. They can block pop-ups, navigate away from the page, delete emails etc.


Simply •1st Floor Bentima House • 168-172 Old Street • London • EC1V 9BP • T: +44 (0)20 7608 8650

I think it is advertising in a sense but like I said before it is not what you would automatically deem to be advertising. There is something else in there that makes it more interesting.

Branded content is hard to categorise
The respondents were shown a broad range of examples and for most it was hard for them to fit into a category. Most of the time it is not considered advertising and in some cases the benefit for the brand is not always clear. This uncertainty inspires curiosity.


Internet usage usually has a goal
When going online there was usually a goal that the respondent wanted to achieve.Whether it was checking Facebook, reading a news or sport update, checking email or watching online content, respondents had a clear mindset.

There is a clear thought process behind the consumption of branded content
Throughout the interviews it became apparent there was a set thought process when respondents were asked to judge the effectiveness of a piece of content. These fell into three main categories;


Engaging - ‘What’s in it for me?’

Inspires action

Simply •1st Floor Bentima House • 168-172 Old Street • London • EC1V 9BP • T: +44 (0)20 7608 8650

Executive Summary
Distribution is key
Increasing potential to reach more people is clearly important but where content is viewed can also have an impact on the message you convey.

Branded Website eg.

Viewing on a branded website makes the content seem more official, delivers a coherent message and also aids the opportunity to ‘up sell’. However respondents highlighted that it could be seen as lacking objectivity and it also less likely to be seen by non-users. Relevant websites offer an introduction to new users as well as the potential to collaborate with other brands and benefit from their influence. In this space viewers can become distracted as there is plenty of competition for their attention. Placing content on YouTube or other video portals exposes it to limitless possible viewers and is often the birth place of many virals. Respondents felt it made the content seem less genuine or lower budget when simply uploaded to a basic account, branded channels helped viewers to distinguish what was professional and what was not.

Relevant Website eg. Barclays on


YouTube/portal Eg. Barclays as one of unlimited clips from unlimited sources

It reaches a lot of people an advert wouldn’t.


A complimentary medium
Online branded content sits very comfortably alongside other advertising media. It shares some benefits of print and TV but also has a role of its own due to increased scope for interaction and lower costs.

Tips for successful branded content
A number of clear tips emerged during the interviews such as being subtle with your product or brand, talking to consumers on their level, educating or entertaining content.

Simply •1st Floor Bentima House • 168-172 Old Street • London • EC1V 9BP • T: +44 (0)20 7608 8650

Simply Media have carried out the first serious qualitative UK research investigating how online visitors consume and think about branded content online. The research explores reactions to many different examples of branded content such as infomercials, corporate social responsibility messages, product reviews and virals. Individual face-to-face interviews were conducted in London as the basis for the research. During this time respondents were shown around 6-8 examples of branded content hosted across a variety of sites and portals. The participants ranged in age from 18-50+ years old, with the majority of the sample being in their 20’s or 30’s. There was an equal split of males and females, and all were educated to university level.

Simply •1st Floor Bentima House • 168-172 Old Street • London • EC1V 9BP • T: +44 (0)20 7608 8650


“ ” “ ”
You’ve got more control, you are choosing what you watch. It’s more fun and engaging.

To view the video that accompanies this report please click Who?

All of our respondents had viewed some form of branded content online at some stage or another. Most of them were unsure of the term ‘branded content’ and so when asked directly said they hadn’t seen any but when given a description could immediately refer to a number of clips they had viewed. Although none of the sample were overly technology-savvy, they were all very confident with their web use. It became apparent that when going online respondents had a clear mind-set of what they wanted to achieve and they knew which sites, widgets and content to visit in order to achieve their goals. Online time is often fairly indulgent and is seen as ‘me time’ where the user is in control and can make their own choices, rather than being dictated to by a schedule. Online is also a space for consumers to indulge their ‘guilty pleasures’, a space for them to view content that they would feel embarrassed discussing with others. Many of our male respondents denied any interest in grooming products but then took a great interest in the content we showed them featuring a number of male hair products! Another example of this is health issues, many consumers first looking into their symptoms online and then visiting their GP.



Simply •1st Floor Bentima House • 168-172 Old Street • London • EC1V 9BP • T: +44 (0)20 7608 8650

The space in which branded content is viewed can make a real impact on the message it conveys and how successful it is.When viewed on a brand’s own site it can have more impact as it makes the video more official, it is also seen to offer a more coherent message and shows the brand is willing to give something away to its consumers. Just hosting content on a brand site does however limit the amount of people the video will reach. A great deal of branded content is often stumbled upon as although online internet viewing figures are constantly increasing users still rarely search for a video as the answer to their question or as a source of information, however when video is served it is welcomed. This issue highlights the importance of distribution. Our respondents were very open to being offered content relevant to their interests, so if on a beauty site being offered video make-up tips was seen as a real bonus, or if on a business site watching interviews with entrepreneurs would be of interest. Accessing a number of distribution networks is a great way for brands to tap into new customers, it also allows a brand to associate themselves with the site and any other brands featured, adding another dimension to the key message. YouTube is an obvious place for a brand to upload their content. This creates great viral opportunities and means the content will always be readily available, unlike on many other sites when it can be archived. However it can detract from the quality and official element of the film. Branded channels on YouTube help to regain that official element and using different creative you can add a younger, edgy element to the brand and the messaging.

If you’re doing something on the internet you’re on a page you want to look at. You’re absorbing the information at that time and looking for something but you are open to suggestion.


Simply •1st Floor Bentima House • 168-172 Old Street • London • EC1V 9BP • T: +44 (0)20 7608 8650

The Anatomy of Branded Content
The web is considered a personal space by most users, a place where they map their own destination and are not required to experience advertising unless they choose to. It is therefore extremely important to understand how to intercept without being intrusive. When shown content a clear mode of thought was displayed by respondents which is summarised in the following diagram;

Eye Catching

Visual appeal Relevance

Engaging - ‘What’s in it for me?’

Entertaining Informative Innovative

Inspires Action

Feel Think Do

Firstly content must be visually appealing. Online video benefits as moving images naturally capture attention but the content must be relevant to their needs or the current page they are on in order to encourage viewing and a click-through.


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It’s good, it’s amusing, it’s very informative. Natural, funny, short and sweet.

Simply •1st Floor Bentima House • 168-172 Old Street • London • EC1V 9BP • T: +44 (0)20 7608 8650

The next thought process in a viewers mind is ‘What’s in it for me?’ Consumers inevitably look for a personal win as watching branded content is a conscious, active decision. The exact criteria are dependent on the needs of the individual but the most common categories are: •	 •	 •	 Entertainment Information Innovation

It	also	became	very	clear	that	the	less	a	viewer	felt	they	were	 being sold to the more they enjoyed the content and the more likely they were to visit the website/purchase/watch again. Product reviews, ‘how to’ guides and general entertainment with a brand logo were by far the most popular areas, respondents often navigated away from videos that acted as direct adverts. Using subtle brand messaging can inspire various forms of action such as seeking further information either from a brand website or the web in general, forwarding to a friend, discussing socially or a purchase. Overall, effective branded content creates a stronger relationship between the consumer and brand; the feeling of intimacy, having discovered something and being spoken to one on one. A sense that the brand understands the consumer and their priorities. The immediacy of being online makes the most of a call to action from sharing the knowledge to purchase.

Simply •1st Floor Bentima House • 168-172 Old Street • London • EC1V 9BP • T: +44 (0)20 7608 8650

Where does it sit with other media?
Online branded content sits comfortably alongside other media when used as part of a cross-media advertising campaign. When compared to TV, print and online it becomes clear that branded content can add another dimension creating more integrated, successful campaigns.


What It Shares
• Audio Visual • Online branded content has
values of TV production

What It Adds
• Commercially more

How They work Together
• TV creates brand awareness and

• Longer opportunities to
interact and respond

• Online branded content brings
brand down to earth

• Exists	as	part	of	web	TV	

• Extends	message

What It Shares
• Environment • Task based mindset •		Interactive	possibilities

What It Adds
• Enhanced	production	values • Long Form • The opportunity to engage,
excite, entertain, amuse, inform Print

How They work Together
• Traditional online ads are

• Online branded content delivers
a rich commercial experience

What It Shares
• Targeted

What It Adds
• Long form • Engagement	or	audio	visual • Clickability

How They work Together
• Magazine ads are heavily
branded and glossy

• Online branded content creates
an engaging sales pitch and an opportunity to do the detail

Branded content online has been the main talking point for many brands and advertisers in 2009 with many yet to take the next step into actually creating their own. With all this buzz there must be a great deal of benefits but outside of low-cost, potential scope and interaction what else can brands get out of this medium?


Simply •1st Floor Bentima House • 168-172 Old Street • London • EC1V 9BP • T: +44 (0)20 7608 8650

If you’re on a brand website and you’re ordering a whole load of products and they’ve got video and you watch it and there is some expert is telling you what to get, I suppose, that you are likely to listen.

On Trend-


Branded content is contemporary and of the moment and speaks to consumers on their level and in a space they feel comfortable with. This makes the content seem personal and targeted, enabling consumers to access information that’s specifically theirs without having to share it with others. Just entering this space gives consumers a positive brand message.

Choice- Respondents consistently reference the importance
of being in charge of what they are viewing, so this type of content is seen as less aggressive than traditional advertising. Whether they actively looked for it, or stumbled across it when browsing, all respondents felt a sense of control over branded content.

Engagement- There are several clear reasons for viewers to
engage with branded content. Visually moving images attract attention more than static photos; they require a thought process and so are able to grab consumers’ attention. Video requires a longer period of attention devoted to viewing and so enables	them	to	engage	more.		If	the	film	is	relevant	you	have	 the viewers’ undivided attention for up to a full 5 minutes.

Targeting- The internet as a whole makes it much easier for
brands to target specific demographics, with the use of branded content this can be achieved to a greater degree. Different edits or entirely separate films can be used when targeting diverse groups or demographics, and distribution networks can be utilized to reach consumers with a huge variety of interests.

Best Practice Benefits
Best Practice
There are numerous benefits when it comes to using branded content online but advertisers really must understand the space before delving in so they can make the most of these benefits and interact with their consumers in a positive way. There is a very thin line between positive and negative interaction, and the internet is a free space where anyone can air their thoughts and opinions so it is important that brands and advertisers respect this and their consumers. The following acts as best practice guidelines for any brand looking to create their own branded content.


Simply •1st Floor Bentima House • 168-172 Old Street • London • EC1V 9BP • T: +44 (0)20 7608 8650

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It’s information, more than just blasting a brand at you.

It’s longer than an advert, it’s better than an advert; at the end of it you are thinking ‘who is this?’

A change of tone - Subtlety and intelligence are one of the
key requirements when creating branded content online. Often consumers feel that TV advertising can be overt and intrusive and whereby this may be acceptable on TV, it certainly isn’t online. Consumers want to feel that a brand is on their level and so don’t want to feel patronised in anyway, so a change of tone is important. Branded content is an extra layer on top of more formal communication so give the consumer more than they would get from a 30 second TV ad or a page printed in a magazine. The content must also be entertaining, educational or innovative, if not all three!

Give them more-

Cut to the chase- As the internet is effectively a personal
space brands have a very small time window in which to engage the consumer and be allowed into their space. This makes the first ten seconds of the video crucial, the story needs to grab their attention without giving away so much that interest is lost before the end.

License to roam-Distribution is extremely important when
it comes to getting the most value from branded content. Get beyond the brand website and find other relevant homes, however, think carefully about the message these sites will add to the brand message.

Go broad - Viral is the one of the key goals for content of this
kind. Use quirky creativity to get content shared.

Simply •1st Floor Bentima House • 168-172 Old Street • London • EC1V 9BP • T: +44 (0)20 7608 8650

The Authors
Lisa Burprich PR and Account Manager Simply Media TV Ltd +44 (0)20 7608 8683 Justin Gibbons Founder, Work Research +44 (0)20 7436 1664

About Simply Media TV
Simply ( is a part of the Simply Media group, which is one of the leading digital video providers with inhouse expertise across the entire value chain. We produce and license video content, sell advertising, distribute to millions of targeted viewers and provide technical, production and creative services to some of the world’s bestknown brands and companies including iVillage, MSN, Barclays and Borders.

About Work
Work has been researching advertising and media for over ten years and during that time has developed a set of tools and techniques that cover the whole communications spectrum. Founder Justin Gibbons spent six years at PHD Media, most enjoyably as Director of the Strategic Services department. During his time there he pioneered the use of qualitative research in media and conducted the world’s first neuroscientific experiment into communications effects. He has won Marketing and Media Week awards for his research and	is	a	regular	speaker	at	conferences	including	the	Edinburgh	 TV Festival, BAFTA, Channel 4, and recently the Norwegian Advertising Association.

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Simply 1st Floor Bentima House • 168-172 Old • London • EC1V 9BP Simply •• Bentima House • 168 - 172 Old StreetStreet • London • EC1V 9BP