The new meaning of Marketing and the future of Branded Content

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The new meaning of Marketing and the future of Branded Content

* By Patrícia Weiss

About 12 years ago, a wise Englishman, highly respected and admired until today said:

“In the future the TV commercial will still be fundamentally important, products are going to be about entertainment. If it isn’t communicated to us in an entertaining way, we’re not interested. It’s not the end of the commercial if it’s entertaining. It’s the end of everything if it’s not entertaining.”

We are living today - with maximum intensity, acceleration and a natural unpreparedness - the reality of the powerful intersection between Marketing, Advertising and Entertainment.

The year 2013 was special because represented the peak of this encounter of territories, of the inevitable convergence that has been, for decades, a reality mainly outside of Brazil.

At the same time, it has never been so difficult to identify what is Advertising that entertains and what is Branded Entertainment and Branded Content, not to mention Native Advertising, Brand Publishing, Brand Newsroom, etc.

All around the world, today’s consumer is no longer passive, but a co-author on a broader non-linear social conversation – and highly visual – that happens around the content distributed by the traditional model of broadcast.

The consumer fully produces in a participatory and hiperconnected culture, watching and interacting with events and contents simultaneously, on the spot, live. And in real time.

The visual social conversation Era

In 2013, we lived the climax of the Visual Social Era without boundaries, like the updated version of the “Society of the Spectacle” by Guy Debord (1967): a “hiperconsumist” society with abundance of information and images. Lead by the totalitarian logic of the “spectacle”, where the society is the spectacle, the social relationship between people is mediated by images and follows the rhythm of this spectacle.

What “looks like” and “appears to be” means more than “being”.

It is a spectacle because everything that was directly lived by people in the past became nowadays a kind of representation. So, it’s natural that the selfies started to appear.

The micro-spectacles represented by each of us, in 140 characters, with pictures, big images and videos, many videos, circulated on the stages of 2013 - the year when Vine and afterwards Instagram, became the starlets of the social media.

If 2012 was the year of the photo, 2013 was the year of the video.

The current global cultural context is a huge challenge for brands as they need to reinvent the old ways of connecting with the consumer, change the management of it’s vital ecosystem and it’s meaning as a brand.

And Marketing needs to reprogram radically its mindset, the way of seeing and attracting the consumer, leaving behind the conventional thinking that is still media and quantity oriented, focusing on what the brand can or not promise and offer to the world.

There is a creative revolution affecting the global society and all sectors of the society are being impacted. The academic, educational, editorial world, showbiz, in short, all industries are in an irreversible process of change. Even if some of them don’t want to admit it.

This revolution has been strongly felt and marked in 2013 and can change the name and the meaning of Marketing forever.

Marketing can now be called Storytelling.

Stories are a balm. And sell products.

Today, the promise, the values and products of a brand are no longer interesting to the consumers if the course of the history doesn’t change. Marketing have to, as never before, tell and make stories come true to connect with people. Brands must be, in a broader way, Storytellers and Storydoers.

The post-modern society breathes and transpires the future in every way. The obsessive necessity of the humans to achieve and live in the future has just been materialized. 

Welcome to the presentism, where the collapse of the narratives prevails permeating the society. In this context, the large attention dispersion of the human being and the fragmentation of the universal language, the structured narratives of the Storytelling, the stories with beginning, middle and end that make us more human since always, are established as a balm.

Corporations must tell stories that are bigger than their products, with a relevant content, capable of involving, engaging and entertaining the consumer and be naturally shared, because it manages to participate in a social conversation that happens around the screens and contents.

A human conversation that happens between people, in their lives.

Stories must always have the consumer - and not the brand - as the protagonist and hero to make sense to the audience.

They must inform and communicate the meaning and the value of the brand in a subtle and appropriate way, without forcing the product sale.

With the Storytelling as a powerful marketing weapon of the present days, brands will be able to materialize a conversation, a contagious experience and a relationship with people, without interrupting their lives. 

Placing the Storytelling in the center of the brand strategy and not only as an event or a campaign, ending with the campaign mentality, ad works or platforms. Because this is not the way people relate to the facts.

And the world has changed, people changed and they do no longer want campaigns, nor promises or egocentric stories centered on brands. They even do not want content, because they just want stories.


The success of “Dove Real Beauty Sketches” is the materialization of this. It was last year’s most seen, commented, and shared story in the world (163 million views in two months). A story – not a campaign, in case you, reader, thought about changing its name - created by Ogilvy Brazil.

It was a powerful idea and a creative solution that helped humanizing even more the Dove brand by touching people for different reasons: it focused on the audience - as the protagonist and hero - it raised a human and relevant question and united in one story the Consumer Insight and the Brand Truth and it’s purpose transferring authenticity, transparency and originality to the content in a magnificent way.

Dove’s Branded Film introduced the brand only in the end. A case of success that shows, as other cases I will mention below, that 2013 was a singular year and definitely a turning point year for a new era, where entertainment is the fundamental language.

Red Bull, is the most successful Storyteller and Storydoer brand up to today. Any manifestation of this brand is an entertaining story. The product works even as a media. The entertainment is part of the essence and the soul of the brand and is also part of the consistent story that the brand tells and delivers.

RedBull is way more than a Media Company or Brand Publisher, publishing own and original content for so many years.

RedBull is an Entertainment Brand, absolutely aligned with its vocation and deeply connected with its audience, their context and what they are interested in.

While Red Bull entertains and give wings to the audience, products are being sold.

The Story Factory: Today every aspect of a business becomes about the brand narrative. Giving a new meaning and interpretation to the brand and to the business territory, Coca-Cola redefined its purpose and role in people’s life going beyond the beverages category, strengthening the brand’s reputation.

Coca-Cola’s business today is a Story Factory instead of a Beverage Factory. More than managing products and brands, they share interesting human stories that bring people that are distant, closer together.

Stories created for people’s participation and collaboration, giving up the control of how much this powerful content can affect and engage human beings in Brazil, India or Pakistan. 

After all, what’s the story behind “storytelling”? A fact is more likely to be remembered if it is anchored in a story.

The art of storytelling is present in the human life since birth. Stories have the power to capture and hold our attention, passing on knowledge, values ​​and concepts since we were literally sleeping in a cradle.

We are naturally used to stories and we crave for them. It is like that all over the world. It has always been and it will continue to be like that because it’s scientifically proven. Storytelling, the art of telling stories, belongs exclusively to the human universe.

When we daydream, our imagination and fantasy flow like a story. When we dream while we sleep, it also happens in a story format, giving us the unconscious right of a plot with many antagonists characters (because most of the time we are the protagonist), with a beginning, middle and end, with challenges, defeats, victories, clashes, climax – or at least one them – and overcoming. A true hero journey, as Joseph Campbell told us.

Not to mention that when we wake up, we have a strong feeling that we were really in a fictional movie. 

Big stories are shared because they are interesting. When they connect, they become viral.

They can affect human beings and “infect” their minds with ideas as Jonathan Gottschall, the author of “The Storytelling Animal – How stories make us human”, told us in 2012.

We get infected when we emotionally transport ourselves through that universe, getting lost when plunging into the story told and after that, when we are back, we find ourselves impregnated with it.

In the corporative world, stories work as an efficient message “vehicle” that can infect us, destroying our defenses and resistance to what is commercial: our intellectual and emotional immunity.  

Storytelling was the big theme in 2013, recognized and applied worldwide as a powerful tool that is vital for the business. Stories will be the marketing.

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The real inner beauty doesn’t have to be evident, neither excessive in Branded Entertainment.

The brands Intel and Toshiba taught us a lesson in 2013 about how to respect the Entertainment territory without being intrusive. 

Through the amazing talent to tell stories of the American agency Pereira & O’Dell (agency commanded by Brazilian PJ Pereira and also responsible for Skype’s touching stories), the fictional story about the protagonist Alex, broke the boundaries of Advertising and Entertainment for good. It was even awarded with a deserved Emmy. It was totally centered on the audience. Contemporary, universal, social and participative - a true case of Transmedia Storytelling. “The Beauty Inside” wasn’t a campaign. It humanized the two brands and talked to the people.  

Not any content is king.

With the increase and definite strength of the social web in 2013, incorporating Storytelling and Planning to the Content Marketing will be mandatory in 2014. One of last year’s most discussed issues in the world was the urgent need of the Content Marketing to become more strategic, useful, qualified and personalized.

In times of social visual conversation, with a crescent production and consumption of visual content, the risk of polluting with content that is less relevant or focused on the brand is huge.

Full attention is needed, because this type of pollution can be so intrusive and inefficient as a 30” traditional film that interrupts a TV program, bothering the audience with an excessive exposure of the product.

Not every Branded Content has a story and works well. This is why Branded Content needs to be more strategic and incorporate, for good, the Storytelling in 2014. 

Nowadays, the content will only be the king if it tells a story that connects and creates a collaborative conversation and that is not overbearing, where the audience is the protagonist and entertainment, the language.  

In 2014, Brand Publishing will win space, as the brands are going to invest increasingly in the development of own and original content, generating more partnerships with print and online publishers. We are going to hear about other Content Studios – like Vice, that opened one to meet the brands’ demands and brands developing content independently also through in-house Marketing structures.

The definition of Advertising has never been more unclear. And it is ok!

We will have the same feeling in 2014: we still don’t know how to identify if a story is an advertisement that entertains or a Branded Content. But this is not a problem. On the contrary.

The films for the Dodge Durango campaign, Old Spice’s and Van Damme for Volvo would have been just advertising films that were part of a campaign. As they are advertising films that do entertain while selling products, they are winner videos, shared and spread in the Internet. The emotional journey of Chipotle cases, created by CAA Marketing and “Dumb Ways to Die” by McCann Melbourne tell stories that are contagious and entertain us while passing on a message and the purpose of the brand.

Indeed, the boundary that separates Advertising from Branded Content is far more real and strong in our heads, in our advertiser mindset.

What really matter is if we are creating a relevant story that can really connect and trigger a conversation with the audience.

Where should a story begin?

It should begin with the audience, and not with the brand. Keep the story in the heart of the brand’s manifestations.

Avoid the “too branded” Branded Content. Do not push the brand or the product sale.

Content without story could be just a noise.

Escape from intrusion, in the same way the consumer does.

Because the words involvement and engagement have finally replaced the words interruption and intrusion.

Entertainment is the language. The way and “vehicle” is the story. And the end? The conversation, the relationship.

Sir John Hegarty, creative and one of BBH’s founders was absolutely right:

It’s all about entertainment.

Patrícia Weiss

Chairman & Founder BCMA South America (Branded Content Marketing Association) & Strategic Consultant of the Intersection of Marketing, Entertainment and Advertising at Asas da Imaginação.

Columnist for Meio&Mensagem

patricia.weiss@br.asas.com

@pweissbr

 ( Article published in Portuguese on @meioemensagem)