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Online branded entertainment: Now sold in a bigger box!

I just watched an episode of Mad Men, but skipped the adverts. There’s possibly an irony to watching a TV show about advertising, but scrolling through the ads in-between. The thing is, I prefer to get my ad-fix online, where I decide what I want to see.

‘Online Branded Entertainment’, that sounds like one of those new marketing buzz phrases, like ‘Social Media Guru’. Yes, branded entertainment is fairly new, if you consider the 1950s recent.

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That was the era when soap advertisers began sponsoring soap operas. These advertisers knew that they could engage their consumers with one simple technique — entertaining them with a good story.

You might find that branded content goes back even further. Take a look at cave paintings. Artists ignored giraffe hunts, preferring to draw scenes of oxen being hunted. This is the reason we now eat oxtail soup and not giraffe sosaties (kebabs). Okay, perhaps I don’t have conclusive proof of this. But neither do you.

Branded entertainment includes online shows, webisodes, viral clips, sketches and podcasts. They sometimes include the actual product, or just align with a brand’s values and personality.

Some marketers might get twitchy when considering communication that avoids hard-sell-shouting and flashing graphics. But consider a less seizure-inducing route. Try entertaining or educating in a friendly manner. What’s the worst that could happen, your logo won’t be permanently emblazoned onto retinas?

Studies show that consumers prefer an entertaining viewing experience rather than being beaten with a marketing stick.

You can always draw inspiration from James Bond’s Omega wristwatch being punted on cinema screens. In this form of branded entertainment, Bond stops short of giving a product demonstration to the villain.

How do we do it, this old idea that has the potential to work brilliantly online?

I know it’s hard, but avoid being condescending and speaking in advertising-speak. Consumers are your family and friends. They can smell a sell from the get-go. (Unless they’re from the slow side of the family.)

Consumers are only willing to accept insincere sales excitement, price hedgehogs and guitar jingles stolen from 1989 if you’re a hardcore retailer. Speak to your market, don’t speak at them.

If someone engages with you online, they’re likely to be looking for product info, or are fans and users of your product. If they’re corresponding with you via HelloPeter.com, then you’ve got other problems, but remember that some people just enjoy complaining. Ignore them unless they’ve got a lot of Twitter followers who are constantly being updated on your #brandfails.

Stop pretending to be the consumer’s friend and start listening to and engaging with them.

If they enjoy your communication, many of your new friends will be willing to pass your message around. It is a team effort online, and people who actively pass on your brand’s message will often be loyal to you; even more than some of your staff, who are planning to resign if they don’t get a raise. (Just a rumour.)

I don’t work for Deloitte, so don’t quote me on these following online numbers:

In South Africa, there are about five million Internet users, while mobile access is approximately 34-million users with over 50-million connections. MXit has 19 million registered users, the bulk of them from SA. South Africa is ranked 10th in Twitter usage.

Are millions of potential customers not enough? Do you find the online market is too niche? Really?

Maybe you think that SA’s Internet connection speeds are too slow for proper video-viewing. Even if you do believe this, don’t just sit on your thumbs until the future arrives. Traditional and online marketing are converging. The synergy is obvious. Media consumption isn’t changing, it has changed.

Get online, start a conversation.

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