Phillip Paquette
March 1, 2022

What is Branded Content? Examples & Tips for Production Companies

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Branded content has become a smart marketing technique to connect consumers with brands in a way much more digestible than the average ad experience. 

And for good reason. Nowadays, people are using ad blockers to tune out ads in droves. Netflix is a commercial-free experience, and Google’s putting an end to third-party cookies, which means so long banner ads. 

These factors and the rise in influencers are all creating the perfect storm for branded content. And in many cases, brands are turning to production companies to help produce this content.

So in this guide, we’ll break down exactly what branded content is, and tips for producing it whether you’re a production company or brand looking to create it in-house. Finally, we’ll dive into some branded content examples you can use as inspiration. 

Let’s get into it.  

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What is branded content? 

Branded content is any sort of content published outside of ad spots that a brand plays a role in producing. That role can be producing the content in-house, collaborating with  brand partners, or just funding its creation.

Branded content characteristics include:

  • Brand-focused rather than product focused. Moves past sale-sy ads and other traditional marketing techniques in order to connect with the audience.
  • This content can be either entertaining and/or educational.
  • Like other forms of content, storytelling is key.
  • Adaptable stories that can fit into a variety of multimedia formats and distribution channels.

A big part of the branded content examples you’ll see later in this guide is also collaboration and reach. When a brand works with influencers or another brand, they can connect with their partner’s audiences to help drive awareness back to their brand. 

Other times, others work together but only a single brand is the focal point. The Lego Movie is a prime example. 

It’s one of the most successful pieces of branded content out there and with it, improved sales by 25% back in 2015 after the movie came out. 

How does branded content differ from conventional ads and content marketing? 

The definition of branded content is sometimes vaguely applied to all around marketing. 

So, let’s get a little more concrete. 

 A few key distinctions to keep in mind comparing branded content to other types of marketing:

  • Content marketing covers a large range of content including white papers, case studies, guides, and more. Branded content marketing is possible, but falls under the umbrella of content marketing. 
  • Branded content doesn’t live in traditional ad spots you would see like commercials or even a pre-roll YouTube ad.
  • Specific product(s) aren’t the focus of this content. Instead, branded content highlights an overall brand. Or at the very least, elevates the perception of that brand by association with another brand, influencer, etc. 

For example, let’s say you’re a C-suite exec at Audi. 

Traditionally you may hire an agency to create a summer ad campaign that may air on TV or online. Either you would take in pitches or have an agency on retainer who would develop the creative and scripts. Then the agency would hire a production company to execute their vision. 

Now compare that to what Audi did with the cast of the Netflix series, Sense8. 

To promote the premiere, Netflix tweeted out the cast piled up and having a good time with the top down on an Audi.

Branded Content - Branded Content Example - Sense8 - Wrapbook
Audi and the cast of Netflix’s Sense8 teamed up for this little gem - What is Branded Content?

With branded content, a brand can be in a show, partner with the cast, or even develop an original program. They may work directly with producers, influencers, or create branded content for TV from the ground up in-house.

Branded Content - Branded Content Example - Space Jam - Wrapbook
Inside the NBA on TNT promoting Space Jam on their Gone Fishing segment might be better than a written branded content definition.

The opportunities are endless. 

Branded content for production companies 

If you’re a production company providing branded content solutions, you might, at some point, run into some challenges along the way. 

You have to make sure the content is on-brand (and especially not tone deaf like this Pepsi ad) and will appeal to a brand’s target audience. 

Though, these challenges can be mitigated a bit.

While many brands go to production companies to make branded content, sometimes the other way around is true.

If you’re a producer, focusing on the creative and how brands fit into that creative vs the other way around, makes a big difference.

Take VICE’s CEO, Shane Smith for example. Listen below as he shares his insight from a production and media company perspective. 

At the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival, hosted by the Wall Street Journal, Smith talks a bit about his company’s process of going direct-to-client so he can make content both the companies and consumers enjoy. 

In just a few seconds, Smith answers what is branded content by starting with a simple desire to just want to “make stuff.”

And while you may relate and also have a strong desire to “make stuff,” how do you navigate the waters when, a lot of the time, brands come to you? 

It can sometimes be a challenge if you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity but aren’t quite sure how to create branded content for the company while staying in-line with your production company’s voice. The brand might want something you feel is not within your brand’s voice. 

Richard O’Connor, Producer at Ace & Son Moving Picture Company, says one thing he runs into often is “brands interested in reproducing what other brands are doing as they are often not coming from a marketing and advertising point of view.” 

To clear out the noise, O’Connor says just listen to the brand’s underlying goals.

That’s why ongoing collaboration starting at pre-production is key. 

“Settling the creative early is a benefit to everyone within the first 3-4 weeks of kicking off a project,” said Richard. 

You can also provide clear milestones throughout the production to determine if and where your team has to go back and make changes.

And while you may still be working with an ad agency depending on the campaign, Melissa Fong, Founder at DuckPunk Productions, recommends you still should “have an open dialogue and direct access with the Chief Marketing Officer or their branding person in house.”

Clear communication allows you to be upfront about these changes, as well as costs with the client.

Speaking of money — another clear challenge you run into is managing expectations on budget. That conversation is much easier when you provide a little perspective. 

“Branded content might be say a 2-minute film for $60,000. If that were a 30 ad spot on TV, they might be spending $160,000,” said Richard. 

You also have to be the voice of reason. A brand may want to rent a blimp for an experiential event that Cardi B streams live on Instagram. But how feasible is that? And how much will it actually benefit that brand? 

Bottom line: you’ll need defined processes for managing expectations and collaborating regardless if you go to the brand or the brand comes to you.

When should a brand create their own content in-house?

While producing branded content in-house might seem like a tough decision, there are a few larger questions you can ask internally to help you decide:

  • Do you have the resources in-house to develop and produce the content yourselves?
  • Would investing in an outside voice helping with the content’s story only be an extra expense?
  • Can you reach your target audience without any partners?
  • If you’re looking to partner with a brand or influencer on content, do you have someone on your team who can negotiate brand integration based on market rates?

If the answer is no to any of these questions, it might be best for the brand to partner with an agency or production company. 

Branded content examples 

Now that we’ve looked at branded content from the shoes of producers and in-house marketing teams, let’s look at more branded content examples.

1. Gay Chorus Deep South

The San Francisco-based brand Airbnb self-produced a documentary, Gay Chorus Deep South. The film followed the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus as they toured through though Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, and the Carolinas. The documentary premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and later aired on MTV.

While Airbnb's head of creative, James Goode, said in a Variety interview he didn't consider the film branded content, they did want to produce a film “in line with our values. Airbnb is in the space of telling stories of belonging and acceptance."

2. #LIPSTORIES

Branded podcasts might feel like a gold rush that’s over. However, there’s thousands of popular podcasts where brands can either partner on specific episodes or even original series. 

Sephora partnered with the Girlboss Radio Network to produce this branded podcast mini-series. Each episode features honest conversations with fashion influencers and thought leaders about self-image, their experiences, and representation in fashion.  

3. The Dundies

If you’ve ever worked a 9 to 5, you’ve been to a sad-ish office party. A brand that can take the piss out of itself is great in most people’s books. This is why The Office having the Dundies taking place at Chilis on The Office worked so well.

Fun fact: in the episode's original script, Pam was penciled in to vomit from drinking. Chili's apparently didn't like people thinking they over-serve. Instead, she stole drinks off other people's tables and fell off her stool from laughing so much.

4. Zendesk Alternative

Even search engine marketing can be branded. Zendesk wanted to capture traffic from Google when someone searched, “Zendesk alternative.”

So, they didn’t just stop at buying the domain zendeskalternative.com. They created a super-cheeky site featuring a fake alternative rock band from Seattle.

This resulted in 95% higher conversion rates than other site content. 

As seen with Airbnb and Sephora, brands are the driving force for great stories to be heard. The best branded content campaigns are inherently appealing to whoever a brand is looking to connect with.

Wrapping Up

The most compelling branded content goes beyond seeing a product sitting on a table in your favorite TV show. It fits right into the context of a story, instead of being pigeonholed in. 

If you’re a production company creating branded content or brand creating your own content in-house, staying true to your vision and within your company’s voice doesn’t have to be challenging.

Be upfront with cost and creative vision with any and everyone you’re working with. And if you’re a producer working with SAG influencers, check out their agreement for branded content.

Disclaimer

At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

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About the Author

Phillip Paquette

Phillip Paquette is an Austin, TX-based storyteller and content strategist that's worked both on behalf of agencies and directly with brands. Catch his business musings on Medium.

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