Branded content is rising, and it’s because of increasing digital readership

By @chelean on
A store front window is covered with the world 'sale' at retail clothing shop which is open for business on a Sunday during the London summer sales period on July 7, 2009. Reuters/John Schults

The digital readership is changing. Gone are the days when readers despise being marketed a product to. On the contrary, they actually expect companies to actively market their brands to them these days.  However, there is a caveat: It has to be done in a creative, informative manner which will give the readers a “take away,” or something they can learn and use. No pesky ad blocks, no irritating SEO words that do not blend smoothly into the content. With content marketers responding, a whole new form of communication and online advertising has emerged – welcome to the age of branded content.

Adworld says that branded content done properly is more “engaging” than any other form of marketing, and can actually persuade a user to perform an action, like download an e-book, sign up for a webinar, or register for an online account. It cites Facebook’s huge earnings in this area: With half a million Facebook users watching videos uploaded by brands and their companies every day, branded content is estimated to contribute to about 97 percent of the social media site’s US$6 billion (AU$8 billion) first quarterly revenues this year.

Not surprisingly, even the giants in every industry imaginable are investing immensely in their own teams who can churn out quality branded content that can capture the customer’s attention, loyalty and purchasing power. Cable conglomerate Turner is partnering with popular TV host Conan O’Brien to come up with their own joint branded content studio, according to Adweek.

Pioneering men’s magazine Playboy is reinventing itself and reaching out to millions of millennials through its newly formed branded content studio. The Campaign Live report says that, instead of churning out hit TV shows based on its usual profitable formula of naked women, the “creative team, social influencers, and content contributors” of Playboy Studios will have a more lifestyle approach, and tackle subjects like “games, social media, tech, travel and food.” 

Finally, no less than the formidable Conde Nast publishing house is leveraging on its beauty magazines – Allure, Vogue, W, Vanity Fair, to name a few – to promote branded content on beauty products through a digital newsletter regularly sent to its 500,000 readers. According to WWD, #TheLookIs is positioned both as a beauty franchise, the online extension and social community of Conde Nast’s magazine readers, and a platform where beauty and wellness companies can advertise their products. 

One noticeable thing about these developments is that it is the traditional media that is making the transition, from magazine and TV to social media and content distribution.

“Branded content on the digital landscape is the way to go, and the traditional publishers are beginning to recognise that,” says Dom Einhorn, CEO of Born2Invest, a news site that delivers relevant updated news from all over the world to its 80,000 users that click on its app every day.

The app has enjoyed 120,000 downloads, which are still growing. A pioneer in more ways than one, Born2Invest’s popularity has also allowed it to offer branded content to interested parties. The manner of delivery of the content seamlessly integrates information into the news platform; the readers have the satisfaction of digging into the relevant pits of data and is made more aware of the brand that is being promoted, and yet does not feel that they have been through a commercialised product pitch.

“Our readers know that what they are reading is branded content, but because of our presentation, they click on it at the same time as they click on the editorial news,” continues Einhorn. “They know what branded content is, but they don’t differentiate or separate it from their usual online reading material. Reading it has become part of their lifestyle.  It’s very different from before.  Back then, readers would click on the news stories, and then shy away from the online press releases. But with branded content, they know that what they are reading is of equal value.”

Born2Invest is also miles ahead of the competition; its content curation and ability to deliver updated information have been customised for mobile platforms like the smartphone and the tablet, which analysts have pointed out is the next arena for branded content. A report by Polar says that branded content is enjoying 63 percent more readership and engagement than those being accessed through the desktop.

Expect more publishers and companies putting up their own branded content divisions to step up to the challenge. To paraphrase what actor Waris Ahluwalia said in the Playboy Studios launch, “Branded content is what will turn you on.”