Rahul Bhatnagar
Guest Article

Evolution of branded content: leveraging the emotional chord to reach audiences

It’s important for brands to not jump in the same pool as every competitor, and make a different space for themselves, says our guest author.

The initial steps in modern advertising dates back to the 16th century. Since then, we’ve witnessed a huge upsurge in brands using diverse techniques to endorse their product. 

While earlier, the prime objective was to increase brand sales for the sake of profitability, it was soon realised that direct advertising may not necessarily contribute to brand sales alone. It was important to establish an emotional relationship of trust and communicate about the values of the brand that, in turn, would contribute to brand sales. This, indeed, gave birth to the concept of ‘branded content’.

This was a moment when advertisers realised the need to increase brand awareness, as audiences were fed up with in-face advertising, and a subtler communication was needed. The concept made even more sense in a country like India, where emotional values play an important role in day to day decision making. 

However, the question arises whether we’ve understood and leveraged the tool of branded content as it should be. 

Advertising: brand sales versus brand awareness

Started initially as word of mouth, brands gradually began advertising their product via outdoor and newspaper advertising as the only options available. However, we were soon introduced to other evolved techniques due to the penetration of the Internet and social media that made reaching out to the target audience way more convenient than ever before. 

Today, brands opt for modern-age techniques, with social media platforms being the most preferred lately. From influencer marketing, branded content, podcasts to product placement, there are innumerable options available.

Gradually, the objective of advertising transformed from sales to awareness, as the brand’s decision making power was challenged by a huge influx of fresh media platforms. Moreover, they were also met by tough competition by other contemporary brands. 

Branded content: leveraging visual content as a way of advertising

In simpler terms, branded content is an art of creating stories around values one would like to endorse through various media, including films/web series, podcasts, talk shows, articles, by putting entertainment and emotional appeal first. In addition, this is usually created and launched in partnership with well-known content creators. 

Over 83% people worldwide consumed visual content, as of now, in 2023. This is because it’s easier for a layman to see and remember information, making visual content an ideal medium to create long-lasting impressions on people. Therefore, it would be smart to club visual content with storytelling, as it helps people relate and trust the brand more efficiently. 

A recent research shows that over 81% consumers need to trust the brand before making any purchase. According to research by Headstream, an impactful brand film influences 55% consumers to buy the product in the future, 44% consumers to share the story and 15% consumers to make an immediate purchase. Perhaps, this is because films have a mass appeal, but the brand messaging and storyline need to be aligned correctly to leverage the same.

Experimenting with content: how to create powerful branded content

First, it’s important to choose the right theme for the brand film to influence the target audience. This can be done by weaving a fictional narrative that aligns well with the brand’s message, and subtly highlights the benefits of its products and services. 

Furthermore, this narrative can be supported by characters that exhibit core values of the brand or characteristics that an ideal brand consumer may have. Such stories can also be selected based on the trends set in the respective brand industry or Indian consumer market in general. 

Second, one needs to understand one’s target audience through the use of social analytics tools to get customer insights. This can help one understand the mood of their audiences and based on that decide upon a strategy. 

Third, the most important step is to decide the format that suits your content best. For instance, ‘Make Your City Safe’ campaign by Volvo Car India that included a branded YouTube video, received over 3.4 million views. Moreover, choosing correct distribution channels can ensure that your content is being promoted across diverse channels, including OTT, social media, website, news portals, etc. 

Last, the objective of all these efforts should only be to harness the influence of human tales in our lives, and not garner impressions from the creator’s channel.

What’s next: future of branded content in India

Today, as numerous brands are seen indulging with visual content via product placements, sponsorships, exclusive branded films, etc., it’s safe to assume that the association between brands and content creators is here to stay. With brands wanting to create shorter and easily accessible content, mobile content is certainly going to be the most preferred format for branded content in India. 

This can be seen with the rise in mobile content series and influencer marketing practices across micro and macro level. As per Tokyo-based ad and marketing agency Dentsu, India’s ad market is expected to reach $12.6 billion in 2023 and, therefore, advertising through visual content is only set to increase in future. 

Having said that, brands still lack an eye to achieve the main objective of branded content, i.e., quality storytelling, due to the hustle to garner good impressions. It’s important for brands to not jump in the same pool as every competitor, and make a different space for themselves. 

At last, though branded content is destined to become a bigger trend, brands will get acknowledged only for impactful storytelling (they don’t create visually captivating content) - connecting with the consumers will only get difficult.

(The author is Rahul Bhatnagar, founder & CCO, Natak Pictures)

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