It shouldn't have taken a well-organized study to tell us this, but here we are anyway: last month, Nielsen reported that quality branded content outperformed pre-roll advertising across user affinity, purchase intent, recommendation intent, and recall. As anyone who has ever figured out how to look away or mute a device during a pre-roll ad knows, the intrusive pieces of content are about as welcome as a hangnail for most consumers, who just want to watch what they set out to watch. At best, they're harmless and annoying; at worst, they can actively damage a brand. On more than one occasion, someone tuning into a breaking news story online has been stuck watching an ad for a local business before they can see coverage of a terrible event, which is surely not the impression that brand set out to create.

The good news is that making quality branded content is easier than ever. From savvy social activations to smart content partnerships to embracing new tech to tell stories, brands have more options than ever to make sure they can steer clear of the dreaded pre-roll.

Nielsen outlined five keys to great branded content in the report: excellent central personality; unique and original concept; personal connection with the audience; emotionally engaging experience; and brand and content fit. But these can all be achieved across different verticals depending on the objective of the brand and who they want to reach.

One of the classic examples of great branded content is the Denny's Tumblr. Still going strong, the Tumblr is a series of gifs, fun questions, and images, as well as some user uploads, all designed to make the diner seem more appealing to teens. The personality shines through, as the site has a sarcastic, dry-humored voice, and while creating a brand Tumblr certainly isn't a new concept, letting it engage with users as if it were human certainly is novel. Allowing users to play a role creates emotional engagement, and Tumblr is a perfect fit for a teen audience who seeks out Denny's as a place to gather because there aren't many other late night spots where teens can meet outside the home.

On Dash Radio, we worked with Microsoft to create an activation for Halo. Beyond just creating a custom station, we had Master Chief, the main character from the game, act as DJ, as well as premiering music and audio clips from game; broadcasting the launch party live; doing interactive giveaways; getting guest DJs, celebs, and fans to go live on air and talk Halo; and creating an immersive experience that while definitely branded, gave consumers something they wanted to hear and created incredible new IP and content while marketing and building anticipation for the core product.

New forms of storytelling can also help drive great branded content. Virtual reality and 360 video are already shown to be much more immersive than regular video, and more brands than ever are taking the opportunity to underwrite great virtual content. AT&T worked with MTV to create two immersive experiences for the show Teen Wolf, which premiered at Comic-Con and then got over a million views in 24 hours when they went up on Facebook 360 and YouTube 360 after the event. Young fans, who might be signing up for phone service plans of their own soon, loved the content and now have a positive association with AT&T.

The time when brands could just make an ad and slap it on a video are over. But the good news is that there are all sorts of ways to create great branded content -- you just have to start with a good idea.

Published on: Sep 8, 2016