The Rising Importance of Branded Content in Germany, Austria & Switzerland


This is the second in our series of features from our first regional version of the Best of Branded Content Marketing (BOBCM), and was written by Sabine Eckhardt, Managing Director of SevenOne Media & SevenOne AdFactory:

According to creative talent Amir Kassaei, marketing should generate one thing above all: magic!

The Chief Creative Officer of the DDB agency network is convinced that “companies that live and breathe marketing and make all their decisions from the standpoint of marketing are more successful than those that manage their business on the basis of sales alone.” That’s because only the former type of company gives sufficient thought to people and their needs, and truly recognises the importance of relevance. However, says Kassaei, such companies are in the minority in our data-fixated, real-time world driven by sales performance alone. What a shame!

Magic lives off imagination, generating stories that inspire us, enchant us, captivate our attention. As always, a high quality idea is the most important ingredient, rather than the type of content or how it’s delivered. In the last few years, however, consumers have come to expect much more from storytellers than they used to. In this era of information overload and bewildering topical diversity, it has become difficult to get through to individual people. Every individual is networked with the outside world through computers, smartphones, tablets, even wearables, for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Possible ways of receiving content have multiplied within the shortest timeframe, and this development is not expected to slow down. To the same extent, advertisers are under growing pressure to deliver the kind of content to their target groups that motivates them to actively consider their brands. Therefore, content marketing and branded content are no longer just buzzwords, but essential communication techniques that every advertiser (regardless of budget) should employ intensively.

Many are already doing this: according to a recent survey by the Swiss digital agency Namics, 77 percent of companies surveyed already have a content strategy or plan to develop one in the short to medium term.

* Source: Content Marketing Study 2014/2015, Namics, Zurich
* Source: Content Marketing Study 2014/2015, Namics, Zurich

The worst sin in content marketing: to be boring
The key to breaking through the media overkill barrier is relevance. The messages aimed at consumers must whet the interest and even the fascination of individuals. They must offer something that stands out from the constant barrage of sensory inputs. Trivia, banalities and substitutable offerings immediately fall through the perception grate, and are punished with merciless disregard. Moreover, the required degree of relevance rises as the sheer number of offerings expands.

But what are the chief characteristics of relevant content? The answer may sound simple compared to the difficulty of implementation: content should fascinate, inspire, inform, even provoke us. Content should captivate our attention and foment discussion. Above all, it should never bore us! The more we’re engaged and involved, the greater impact the content will have on us. If we can be motivated to take a thorough look at the content, we’ll also share it with our friends, comment on it, like it, et cetera, and that will set in motion a dynamic, self-sustaining process of widening dissemination, like falling dominoes.

Brands are under constant real-time observation
These days, content can be created in any number of ways, whether pushed, random, initiated, or even completely unwanted. Therefore, advertisers and brand vendors need to constantly see, read and hear what is being written, posted, or tweeted about their brand. Consumers and even non-consumers are constantly expressing unsolicited opinions, sharing their experiences, and calling upon or even challenging brand vendors to clarify, mediate, or give still more. Brands are under constant, real-time observation, a thousand times over. While this phenomenon poses risks, it also presents opportunities. Brands that generate attractive conversation material and moderate the dialogue actively with consumers will be rewarded with greater opportunities.

This isn’t always easy, because – in addition to having heightened expectations for content and entertainment value – consumers are increasingly turned off by in-your-face advertising. In their stressful ‘always-on’ mode, consumers have developed a pronounced aversion to being interrupted or disturbed by advertising and marketing messages. Obtrusiveness is punished immediately and can even unleash an avalanche of negative reactions, possibly necessitating an arduous campaign of costly communication measures to smooth the ruffled feathers. Once defriended or unliked, the brand falls to last place in the attention ranking of the ex-fan. Rigorous content marketing is required in this case as well.

Paid, owned, or earned?
The combination of sound and image delivered by video ads has long proved to be the most important and most effective type of content. Therefore, videos are the new, all-purpose weapon in the battle for grabbing the attention of consumers, because they satisfy a number of communication objectives simultaneously. They convey detailed knowledge and product information, lure potential employees to a company, or provoke emotions and stimulate desire to purchase the advertised products. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that more and more companies are using videos to get their messages out. They employ entertainment formats to tell stories that fit their brands and involve the viewer permanently.

The question of paid versus owned versus earned media nearly always arises in this context. Certainly, owned media (such as a company’s own website or YouTube channel) can play an important role in all stages of the purchasing process, as a reliable and appreciated guide on the customer‘s journey. On the other hand, paid media is unrivalled when it comes to reaching large audiences. Broad target groups can be reached in the shortest time. If a company wants its brand or new product to become known very quickly, wide-reach media is an indispensable element of the communication strategy. And this will not change in the future. However, the question of paid versus owned versus earned media should not be absolute. Instead, the different channels should be combined as effectively as possible, in such a way that they complement and inspire each other. This is something of an art.

From reach marketer to content marketing provider
Content marketing and branded content always involve storytelling. Consequently, not only the advertiser but also the media provider must make the evolutionary leap to becoming a brand storyteller. But how exactly does a company evolve from a conventional reach marketer into a creative content marketing provider? For this very purpose, ProSiebenSat.1 formed a specialised creative company for innovative communication solutions, SevenOne AdFactory, back in 2009. As a member of the ProSiebenSat.1 family, this company uses direct channels either to link advertising campaigns closely with broadcaster and format brands, or to develop consistent storytelling tailored to the specific requirements of the given brand, which can be played on nearly all platforms. This approach is summed up by the slogan “content near advertising.”

In essence, the goal is always to showcase the brand in the best possible way. This can be done by networking across all media, or by means of a specifically developed advertising product.

The thrill isn’t even close to gone
Finally, more and more customers are looking for tailored communication solutions. Producing wonderful stories is not enough; the environment or context in which the content is embedded and distributed is just as important. Just imagine that you want to advertise your travel platform, but find it presented alongside a news picture of the sinking Costa Concordia. Such scenarios are the stuff of nightmares for marketing executives. Not only the platform, but also the direct contexts in which your campaign is conducted are critically important.

Der Lack ist ab – Staffel 1 Folge 1

A prime example of a good branded entertainment campaign is the current web series Der Lack ist ab’ (‘The Thrill is Gone’) on MyVideo, featuring the well-known protagonists Kai Wiesinger and Bettina Zimmermann. Their marriage has become a tad stale, the children are almost old enough to leave home, and each spouse’s flaws are becoming all the more obvious to the other spouse. In short, the husband and wife are getting on each other’s nerves. But as always, there’s simply not enough time for a fresh start. This web series of 10-minute episodes exposes the turbulent life of a mid-40s couple and their stressful teenage children.

Furthermore, it shows how modern marketing should function today: witty, imaginative, unobtrusive. SevenOne AdFactory recruited Vodafone and Opel as premium sponsors. This sponsorship expanded the brands’ web presence to traditional television under the unifying effect of consistent storytelling, as well as integrating the two celebrity actors into their regular campaigns.

Branded entertainment: the advertising product of the future?
Successful initiatives like ‘Der Lack ist ab’ are created in close cooperation with the client brand as well as their agency, in most cases. The intensive consultation between them often breeds formats that are both innovative and efficient, and can be deployed on media such as Facebook or Instagram in addition to ProSiebenSat.1 Group’s own platforms.

With this kind of project, it’s vital for a media company to advise and support the client brand, and offer tailor-made communication solutions on brand-relevant platforms. This advisory service – consisting of the creative idea, platform and environment recommendations, and implementation – is an important factor contributing to the success of a branded entertainment campaign.

Branded entertainment is the advertising product of the future, if it’s designed to be entertaining or if it provides valued information to the consumer. The previously mentioned Namics content marketing study found that most of the companies surveyed in Switzerland and Germany have been active in content marketing for at least four years. “Nonetheless, a majority of the surveyed companies consider themselves to have attained little maturity in their work with content marketing,” the study found.

Content has become an important driver of the economy. In this age of real-time communication, brand vendors can choose from numerous ways of directly influencing customer relationships with their content. As part of a consistent marketing strategy, therefore, the production of proprietary content can be an effective and important complement to conventional communication measures.

Stories that remain in the memory forever
Due to the trend of digitisation, the entire industry is caught up in an extremely dynamic transformation; channels and platforms are constantly changing, new players and formats are emerging overnight. Many advertisers (and especially those that need to reach young target groups) are finding it more and more difficult to maintain the necessary perspective. No matter what the recipients’ age, however, the trick is to send the right message to the right person at the right time.

In this digital era, in which opinions are formed or changed in a matter of minutes, brands amount to the sum of impressions that people have taken from a large number of channels. While those impressions may change at a faster pace than ever, a good story can remain in the consumer’s memory forever.

Check out the Slideshare version of the book below, or read more in this series on BOBCM