Branded Entertainment – doomed to failure

There is a big problem with the current buzz about branded entertainment. Branded entertainment is doomed to failure.

For sure consumers want to be entertained. And brands want to engage them. So what could be more sensible than creating branded entertainment? Well the trouble is that the phrase branded entertainment implies entertainment that is different from that which we all choose to consume normally. And by different I mean worse.

Because the opportunity with branded entertainment is to create something more engaging than a TV commercial isn’t it? And that bar is set really low. So if a brand is involved then it is OK for the entertainment to be a little less entertaining than normal right? At least it’s not an ad. Lucky consumers!

I was at a presentation the other day, and someone was talking through some research they had done into this topic. They presented VCCP’s excellent “Compare the Meerkat” campaign as an example of branded entertainment. No doubt it is an excellent campaign and really entertaining but WTF? I cannot imagine many people sitting down at 10pm, after having done an extra couple of hours of emails/cooking dinner/caring for pets and children/conversing with loved ones, then choosing to spend an hour of their precious evening watching Alexander the meerkat go “simples” on repeat. The point is that this use of the phrase branded entertainment ensures that it comes to mean entertainment that is inherently substandard.

The real challenge is to create something more entertaining than the entertainment we actually choose to consumer. Like X Factor, or American Idol, or True Blood or The Wire etc etc. If brands had in mind being better than the entertainment that consumers do choose, rather than just being better than advertising then they might work a bit harder to create something worth watching. They might think about how they could play a meaningful role and add value to the consumer’s experience. They should think – how is entertainment changing and how can I play a positive active role in that? How can I distribute content, how can I curate, nurture and support the creation of content, how can my brand entertain? Eurostar’s role in the creation of Shane Meadow’s film Somers Town is a good example, they should be proud that they were involved and didn’t mess up the film (although for some reason they held back from talking about their role).

Another good example of an attempt to get this relationship right is the work of RSA and Ag8 with their Purefold project. I am very interested to see how that project goes. And I also found their emphasis on investment in production rather than distribution really made sense in the internet age. It is in stark contrast to the traditional P+G style approach of minimising non-working spend vs working spend. If you invest in making the content really good, and create a meme, then you might be able to spend less on distributing it (so long as you get your social media strategy right and remember that distribution isn’t as simple as just posting something online).

Brands have the luxury of not needing to worry too much about monetising the content they make if it is used for marketing or promotional purposes, but maybe this is danger as well. Perhaps we would all do well to think, is this sufficiently entertaining for someone to want to pay for it, or at least spend that precious hour of their evening enjoying it…..?

In my next post I am going to continue the entertainment theme with – the seven ways entertainment is changing