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

Nudge – Choice architecture and marketing

It has been out a while, finally getting round to writing about the paean for public policy makers,Thaler and Sunstein’s book Nudge. The book describes the impact of small influences or “nudges” on one’s choices and behaviour created by environment or circumstance, and seems to me to have has lots of relevance to marketing.

They describe environment or circumstance as having a “choice architecture”. Choice architecture is the way a given system is set up to encourage certain actions over others. For example it makes a big difference if a check box question asks you if you want to opt out of a company pension plan instead of asking you to opt in. Inertia means many people don’t tick the box, and so more people get the benefits of employer contributions if the default choice is to opt in. The authors point out that making an active decision to influence choice architecture impacts behaviour just as much as leaving existing choice architecture alone, so why not choose to encourage a more positive outcome? It is impossible to avoid being a choice architect if you are are public servant and so it is better to encourage desirable actions. Whatever the system, from a voting form or a pension scheme or whatever, the system exerts some sort of influence over actions.

Marketing is all about influencing choice architecture. One only has to think of the science of retail and how the seemingly unimportant positioning of products on shelves can make a huge difference to sales. It is easy to get queasy about this aspect of marketing. It conjures up all sorts of negative connotations of subliminal messaging and overly pushy sales techniques.

But a responsible and sensible consideration of choice architecture by marketers can be of use to consumers faced with choice overload. Barry Schwartz talks about the Paradox of Choice. Most of us have busy lives and are time poor and attention poor. So set in that context it is possible to feel that you can have too much choice. Choice can be paralyzing and distressing. Too much choice is not a good thing.

People need help to make choices, and good marketing helps people make informed choices and feel better about themselves and what they choose. And so I think that the principle of proactively managing choice architecture is just as valid for marketing as for public policy.

Choice architecture can be deceptively simple. One of the examples of a nudge involves an airport administration who painted a small fly on each mens’ bathroom urinal to encourage accuracy (and therefore reduce the cleaning bill).

The point is, details matter.

Failing to think through the details of exactly how systems will impact a consumer and what they might do as a result can be the difference between success and failure. And I think that is particularly true in the hyper-connected complex world we live in.


Just read an interview with Rory Sutherland on the TED blog, and he make many excellent points building on his talk at TEDGLobal that chime with the above post. Thanks to for tweeting the link and reminding me.

The future of technology is more human and emotional, not more technical

I was inspired by a couple of excellent articles by Mel Exon on BBH Labs to write this post on the singularity and technological advancement. I recently read Ray Kurzweil’s mindbending book “The singularity is near” and like many of the other people commenting, found Mel’s article an extremely helpful and lucid overview of a very complex and conceptual area and it certainly broadened my understanding.

I found her distinction between different viewpoints and attitudes to technology particularly interesting. But I felt that many of the viewpoints described tend to see the alternative futures as quite black or white. Technology for good or evil, technology under control and our servant or out of control and our master.

The singularity means that the merging of humans and technology will continue and result in non biological human intelligence. So rather than creating a them/us scenario, we will need to re define what human intelligence is.

So I don’t think it is likely that we will come to see the situation as humans vs robots. It seems more likely that both human and non biological intelligence will work together for a long time and technology will continue to augment human abilities in both positive and negative ways at the same time. Technology is a product of human nature, and as an optimistic realist I believe that human nature will pursue positive outcomes, but in an imperfect way that will lead to negative outcomes that we can learn from. After all good and bad is inherent in human nature and so technology can easily be a product of either, it could either be good or bad or both depending on how we design it.

I think the relationship we have today with our mobile devices is a good current example of this and I was struck by an article in last weekend’s Observer. The current boss of the Orange mobile phone company quoted his son as saying “Why do I need to learn things when I can just Google them on my Iphone”. This change in behaviour is both good and bad. Clearly the power of having the internet in your hands is useful and empowering as it enhances your biological intelligence, but the danger is that the next generation fails to understand the importance of experience and learning to developing true understanding.

So far technology has been pretty good for most people overall, despite some substantial misuses in war, which are a product of human nature of course rather than the technology itself. Steven Pinker has written recently of the decline in the actual violence experienced by the majority of people in developed societies as culture has evolved. And this decline has happened despite an explosion of technology.

That got me thinking that contrary to the view of many skeptics, I don’t believe that technology is changing human nature. Our behaviours might well be changing as they are enabled by technology, but I don’t believe that our fundamental human nature, developed over millennia of evolution is susceptible to a mere few hundred years or even decades of change. Moreover whilst technological change might be unsettling and risky, it doesn’t mean we are powerless to influence its advance, in part because technology is a product of human intelligence.

I think that future of technology will be more human not more technical. As technological capability continues to increase, and manufacturing parity is easier to achieve, technology in itself will be less and less of a differentiator and will be taken for granted in all areas of our lives.

As human intelligence becomes non-biological, pure computing power will no longer be a differentiator. Instead emotional forms of intelligence will be an increasing differentiator. Experiences will be easily faked/ virtualised and so emotional response and connection will be one of the few remaining true/authentic experiences.

So what happens to brands? You might also think that brands will be less important as super intelligence – in terms of computing power – becomes able to consider vast sums of info and make comparisons between products and brand on a rational level. The trends we see today where brands are punished for the smallest mistakes because of internet enabled consumer power, will continue.

However brands will still retain their power. Brands are a medium for providing emotional response. Brands allow us to feel differently about the choices we make. They add intangible value. So long as emotion is part of human experience then brands can contribute to our emotional experience of the world.

I am reminded of the scene in I Robot when Will Smith gets some new retro Converse sneakers. Imagine he was a nanobot enhanced super intelligent human. He could well be rationally aware that there are loads of far better sneakers out there, but the Converse brand still speaks to him, stirring up feelings of nostalgia, attachment and fondness.

Ultimately I guess no one really knows what is going to happen, but it certainly isn’t going to be boring……