Traditional advertising has plateaued. Agencies and brands are turning to branded content campaigns for the chance to make an authentic impact with huge growth potential.

What is branded content? Essentially, it's stealth marketing. Think The Lego Movie, Tony Stark driving an Audi in Iron Man 2, or Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign. Branded content is that goofy video of animals in slow motion you stop to watch on Facebook—and, in the end, realize it was sponsored by Samsung.

Branded content is specifically designed to be viral. It typically relies less on big media buys and more on social media shares. If you haven’t seen it yet, you just haven't been looking. Even Netflix is using it to promote their original series Orange is the New Black. Their article on women's prisons is the brainchild of their award-winning brand marketing unit, T Brand Studio "which creates “content and experiences that spark imagination and influence the most influential audiences around the world.”

Arguably the all-time most successful branded marketing campaign (and I’ll admit I'm editorializing, but bear with me) is The Lego Movie. The surprisingly clever movie was loved by children and adults, netted over $469 million, and introduced Legos to a whole new generation. It was followed up with The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie. If you liked those, there are more coming down the pike—but in the meantime, why not buy the set?

Here’s the scoop on branded content.

It's not just for the private sector.

Although private industry began the branded content trend, the public sector uses it just as effectively. In 2012, the Melbourne (Australia) Department of Public Transit released what became an internet phenomenon, “Dumb Ways to Die.”  Since then, the video has been viewed over 170 million times, spawned an app, and got everyone singing about metro safety in the process.

So? Rather than a standard PSA that would be forgotten before it had even finished playing, the Melbourne Department of Public Transit created a catchy song and recognizable cast of characters that stick in your mind—and make you think twice about standing at the edge of the train platform.

Take a look at: The Navy’s tattooed recruitment campaign, or this expose on the UAE’s renewable energy courtesy of the United Arab Emirates Embassy and the Smithsonian.

It invokes emotion.

Just in time for the 2016 Olympics, Gatorade released “The Boy Who Learned to Fly,” a beautifully animated, touching short piece about the life of Usain Bolt. The seven-minute spot chronicles his life as a child in a schoolyard in Jamaica to the fastest man alive, and the mentors and family who got them there. The piece only briefly mentions Gatorade, but received over 15 million views and critical acclaim.

So? Humor, heart, pride, anguish: Branded content relies on social media’s ability to convey emotion to carry the campaign—because nothing motivates people to like, share, and comment like an emotional reaction. Gatorade’s piece was timely too; the Olympics remind people of perseverance and success, and Usain Bolt became an overnight celebrity with his talent and his story.

Take a look at: Canadian Tire’s spot “The Wheels” that will make you shed a tear or two, or the adorable Friskie’s video about an old cat teaching a young cat a few things.

It cements your brand values.

The Dove Real Beauty campaign was a massively successful campaign and propelled Dove to the forefront of everyone's mind while barely featuring the product. Dove uses the theme of personal acceptance to challenge women's self-perceptions of beauty. The campaign launched in 2004, and to this day Dove remains committed to encouraging women to love and accept themselves. A quick scroll of Dove’s website reveals skincare products intermixed with socially conscious programs to promote positive body image, and empowerment programs for young girls.

So? Dove is no longer about “soap”; Dove is about self-acceptance and self-care. In doing so, Dove has built a generation of consumers who remain loyal to its products, because they believe in its message.

Take a look at: Embrace luxury in the Ritz-Carlton’s short film “The Stay” or the natural world in National Geographics miniseries “Behind the Shot.”

It showcases your product—subtly.

Branded content is tricky, in that it doesn't call attention to the product. Branded content relies on the product to speak for itself and focuses on brand values and brand recognition. Take Dissolve’s “This is a Generic Brand Video” video—a hilarious tongue-in-cheek parody of every commercial on TV. It also happens to showcase Dissolve’s vast array of beautiful stock footage.

So? Between streaming services, premium cable, and online ad blockers, consumers are bound to fast forward through commercials when they encounter one. Branded content slips through the cracks by creating content people want to watch and even seek out. Dissolve’s video went viral because of its humor, and in doing so more than 2 million people saw their reel.

Take a look at: Hermès’ introduction of its new collection with a colorful dance, or J.W Marriott’s spy mystery “Two Bellman Three” that features their newest location in Korea.

Are you inspired to join the trend? Want to create a branded content campaign for your brand? Contact us and let’s get started.

Marketing Coordinator

In her role as marketing coordinator, Morgan uses her organizational skills and attention to detail to help support several key accounts. Morgan also aids in the coordination and execution of LMD’s social media and the LMD blog. In her free time, Morgan enjoys reading and working with her guide...Read more