What is branded content in Australasia?

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BOBCM has been following the best branded content work from down under for some time – we featured Metro Trains Melbourne’s Dumb Ways to Die in our 2014 global ebook, as well as PEDIGREE’S K9FM radio station for dogs and Air New Zealand’s The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made in the D&AD guest chapter of our 2015 edition.

In this World Series Report, Emily Bull, Executive Producer and Co-Founder of Hellofuture.tv, gathers opinions from her peers and digs deeper into the latest regional trends, best examples of work, and the purpose and future of branded content marketing in Australasia. Emily sits on the advisory board of the BE Fest awards that judge the best branded entertainment work in the region, and she is president of the Branded Content & Entertainment jury this year at Spikes Asia.

Emily’s market report is followed by a selection of expert opinions from the region:

Branded content is hardly a new concept in Australasia. Emerging in the early noughties, it was a slow-burning medium. However, over the last five to 10 years, it has gained significant pace and undergone a revolution of sorts, emerging as a more sophisticated – and subtle – brand messaging platform and bringing with it a new playing field of delivery methods.

The Internet has democratised the content landscape. Specialised branded content departments and agencies are continually emerging. Having to earn your audience, rather than buy it through a broadcast partner, is a notion paving the way for better content that’s more shareable and has more interaction with consumers.

The days of brands tagging their logo onto a television show have given way to brands creating programming for their own branded social media channels. While Australasia has been a relative latecomer to contemporary content marketing, many believe the region now ranks among the best in the world.

Standout and award-winning examples of branded content from the region, such as Metro Trains’ Dumb Ways to Die, Air New Zealand’s The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made, Air New Zealand’s Kiwi Sceptics and New Zealand Transport Agency’s Tinnyvision, have helped to ensure that Australasia is a region to watch when it comes to engaging content.


What is branded content in Australasia?

Before we go much further, we should first define exactly what we’re talking about when we discuss branded content in our region.

Branded content is a form of advertising medium that blurs conventional distinctions between what constitutes advertising and what constitutes editorial content. Branded content is essentially a fusion of the two into one product, which is distributed as editorial or entertainment content, albeit with a highly branded quality and often labelled as ‘sponsored’.

“Ads use formulas. Branded content allowed brands to create new formulas.”

John Ford, CEO & Founder, The One Centre

At its best, branded content is the merger of advertising and entertainment. It’s designed to engage with audiences while also providing utility, information and entertainment.

Perhaps a more important classification, when it comes to discussing branded content, is what makes a good or successful piece of branded content. I believe good branded content isn’t just one film on its own; it’s a body of work and tiers of continually updated content that transform the brand into a broadcaster or publisher.

Brands such as Red Bull, Nike, Intel and Chipotle have nailed this approach and successfully merged their brand values and purpose with entertainment. We are now starting to see other brands follow their trailblazing lead to create their own branded content.

“We live in very privileged times where we are able to enjoy the content we love on our terms. This is giving brands an amazing opportunity to stop disrupting and start being the entertainment, to create passion-point content that their audience chooses to consume. With great strategy and execution, the payoff of this emotive content is significant and can impact the entire pathway to purchase.”

Simon Joyce, CEO, Emotive Content

Central to a successful piece of branded content is the role of the audience. A branded content approach should increase engagement and emotional connection by creating stories that connect with their audience. Unlike traditional advertising, branded content should give back to an audience, either by providing a utility, information or entertainment, rather than deliver a single-minded product message.

“Audiences show us that when brands produce valuable content rather than traditional ads, and use less intrusive ways to invite the audience to engage with it, they are willing to respond.”

Ayal Steiner, General Manager Australia and New Zealand, Outbrain

The beauty of branded content for marketers is that it presents an opportunity to separate selling from storytelling, which helps to create a level of authenticity that we previously haven’t seen in traditional advertising models. Because branded content is made for an audience, the content is a lot more social and shareable, which creates brand advocates that previous, more traditional marketing models have never mastered.

Why Australasia?

We know all too well about the global decline of TVC viewing. With 86% of people skipping TV ads, according to the latest statistics from the Content Marketing Institute, and the explosion of ad-blocking apps, it’s clear that this trend is not going away.

Audiences, particularly millennials, are tired of being bombarded with advertising messages; they’re looking to be engaged in different ways. They’re happy to receive their entertainment or utility from a brand, as long as it gives them something back.

A global study from Havas Worldwide revealed that 60% of millennials shared branded content in their social media activity frequently and viewed it as “an important part of the creative content online.”

Australasia is no different, and local marketers are constantly searching for new and innovative ways to engage with audiences.

“Brands must explore alternatives to traditional marketing approaches in order to be seen and heard.”

Christie Poulos, Global Head of Video, King Content

Viewers in Australia and New Zealand are lapping up branded content. Screen Australia’s ‘Online and on demand – Trends in Australian online video use’ report reveals that 50 per cent of Internet-connected Australians from all walks of life are watching professionally produced film and television video content via the Internet. According to Nielsen’s Online Landscape Review, Australians streamed 7 hours and 14 minutes per person with 3.3 billion streams watched. 13,567,000 people were actively streaming online.

Yet while Australian audiences, who are often described as early adopters, have shown an appetite for branded content, our conservative marketing community has been hesitant to fully embrace the practice. It wasn’t until the global phenomenon of Dumb Ways To Die, which was the most awarded campaign ever at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, that mainstream Australian marketers woke up to the power of branded content to engage large audiences.

Dumb Ways To Die was a public service campaign created by McCann Melbourne for Melbourne’s Metro Trains. The infectious music video went viral and to date has been viewed more than 111 million times. In the words of former McCann Executive Creative Director John Mescall, the campaign aimed to “engage an audience that really doesn’t want to hear any kind of safety message”. The online film has spawned games, apps, more videos and parodies, and was credited with a 30% reduction in train accidents.

New Zealand is a small country with only 4 million people. Because of this, traditional advertising still works quite well and branded content tends to be product placement ideas that piggyback on existing reality TV shows or traditional sports sponsorships.

Driven largely by the size of its population, New Zealand – and to some extent Australia – has long served as a test market for new products, and this ‘test and learn’ philosophy has been in clear effect as brave marketers trial innovative ideas.

The same way we used to start the process by asking ‘What’s the TV ad?’, we’re now hearing client requests like ‘Can we use Snapchat?’ or ‘Let’s try to be the first to really crack using Periscope’.”  

Ahmad Salim, Group Business Director, Colenso BBDO

New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA)’s Tinnyvision is a trailblazing Snapchat campaign created by Clemenger BBDO New Zealand. The campaign aimed to raise awareness of the dangers of driving stoned, but faced with a notoriously hard-to-reach target audience of young men, NZTA needed a new and authentic way to tell its story. Tinnyvision played out over one day with followers receiving a series of funny stoner videos until the final clip delivered the campaign message.

This is a standout example of integrating branded content into a new social media platform. Tinnyvision got the attention of 10,000 hard-to-reach young people. 98% spent the whole day with it, sticking around until the very last snap. Because they had time to relate to the characters, the final message really resonated.

To really illustrate my test market point, there’s also the multiple award-winning PEDIGREE New Zealand K9FM campaign created by Colenso BBDO, which – after its successful launch in New Zealand – is now being considered by parent company Mars for rollout in other countries.

Australasia also has an amazing pool of talented creative resources such as directors, producers, scriptwriters, editors, writers, photographers – the list goes on.

The declines in funding for both TV and film creation, as well as the downsizing and axing of newspapers and magazines, mean the market has a wealth of skilled creators across film, broadcast and journalism.

The branded content industry in Australasia has been able to draw on this wealth of talent to ensure that the quality and calibre of filmmaking and storytelling is outstanding. Brands and marketers looking to create branded content are able to call on expert creators who understand narrative and story arcs to ensure top quality, engaging content.

One great example of this is Plonk, an Australian production for the tourism body Destination NSW, aimed at promoting New South Wales’s lesser-known wine industry to potential tourists. The six-part online series was created by local producer/actor Nathan Earl (The Checkout, The Chaser, Hungry Beast, Lawrence Leung), DOP Aaron Smith (The Checkout, The Chaser) and executive producer Glen Condie (The Great Crusade). The series starred Chris Taylor, Nathan Earl and Josh Tyler. The episodes averaged more than 50,000 views and were later screened as a TV series.

Another great example is The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made, an instalment in Air New Zealand’s long-running series of themed safety demonstration videos. Originally designed to ensure passenger engagement and stop people tuning out of the flight safety briefing, the videos have become an anticipated online viewing experience. The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made featured special effects by WETA Studios, cast and crew from the Lord of the Rings films, including Elijah Wood and Sir Peter Jackson, and it was directed by local filmmaker Taika Waititi. The film has been viewed over 15 million times.

5 key trends in Australasian content marketing

1. The explosion of ‘always on’ content strategies

The clearest trend in the Australasian branded content market is the seismic shift by brands moving away from scheduled campaign periods to an always on content strategy.

While this ticks a number of boxes for marketers who need to provide engagement and content for audiences, it also presents marketers with the problem of creating and producing content to feed the beast.

As brands invest more in creating content strategies, we’re seeing an exponential increase in the volume of output. However, while the volume increases, the budgets are not growing but splintering. Put simply, the sheer volume of content and the budgets required to maintain an always on approach are causing major headaches for brands.

This shift from high-level conceptual work to purely executional work risks brands getting lost in the race to provide an always on approach that might be irrelevant for consumers.

However, with clever video production methodology and agile management of the content strategy, producers are able to assist clients with their spend, creating multiple batches of content to reduce the overarching investment and maximise deliveries.

Brands that opt for a tiered strategy of emotive/thought leadership/utility, brand and social content, rather than creating content on a week-by-week basis, will be the big winners.

Bayer’s The Advantage Family, a series of 35 branded content videos, is a great example of this strategy. It includes emotional connection stories, as well as more utility-based stories that tie the brand to holistic pet care such as dealing with a dog in thunderstorms.

Air New Zealand’s always on content strategy is a well-established exemplar, as illustrated further with the Meanwhile in New Zealand campaign, including the Tortoise and the Hare.

 2. Social media collaborations

While we witnessed the birth of the social media star many years ago, the last 12 months have seen Australasian brands harness this talent in a bid to connect with online stars’ large, engaged followings.

The appeal for brands is obvious: star bloggers and Instagrammers provide instant access to an already engaged audience. In addition, this trend provides marketers with efficiencies by merging talent, media and distribution channels all in one media spend. This is particularly attractive to marketers who are working with small budgets and an increase in ROI reporting.

“From an influencer perspective, there are some creators who transcend markets across the region – in particular the big global names – but we haven’t been really interested in how localised that next level of creators are. It’s really exciting to see great, very local content across music, humour, dance, et cetera generate really deep levels of engagement, but it’s also challenging to develop platforms that can work on a more regional basis.”

Anathea Ruys, Head of Fuse Asia Pacific, Omnicom Media Group Asia Pacific

 3. The boom in low-cost content

Thanks to audiences’ love affair with BuzzFeed, the branded content industry has seen an explosion in brands employing their own BuzzFeed-style content. This ranges from ‘listicles’ to vox pop video, all of which is made quickly and cheaply, and can be pumped out via branded channels. This content has high levels of authenticity and low production costs – very appealing to clients in this market of increased volume and reduced budgets, though less appealing to agencies and creators.

“Some (not all) traditional agencies are bound by the shackles of TV experience. It’s incredibly hard for them to conceive of doing video content for AU$5000 a video, or even less. A new breed of content creators has emerged, but as demand has increased so has the cost. No agency wants to lose this service as a creative outlet, but there’s only so long they’ll be willing to do it at a loss.”

Mike Hill, former CEO, Holler

 4. The rise in fictitious content

To date, Australasian branded content has been dominated by factual branded content, predominantly articles and documentary films. This could be due to the popularity and rise of native advertising in Australia.

However the last year has seen an exponential rise in the volume of fictional content being created by brands in Australasia, as more brands turn to branded content in a bid to engage audiences through storytelling.

In 2015, I had the honour of being President of the Branded Content category for the Spike Awards, and it was surprising and inspiring to see that the fiction section was in fact the strongest.

An outstanding example is AshBecLee, an online series created by Perth Racing with its advertising agency 303Lowe, which aimed to promote horse racing to a younger audience of 18-34 year old women who viewed the sport as out-dated and out-of-fashion. The seven-part series followed Ash, Bec and Lee over one weekend as they went about their lives. The series produced a 36% increase in ticket pre-sales and reached a staggering 92% of the target audience (250,000 of 372,000 women aged 18-34 in Western Australia).

6. Emotive storytelling

The push to engage audiences has seen a boom in emotive storytelling, as brands look for uplifting and inspirational stories to share with audiences in a bid to connect the brand with positive sentiment.

Mumbrella’s Branded Entertainment 2014 festival Gold winner for best brand integration was a little anecdote by GE Healthcare called Twin Miracles, which tells the true tale of twins Ethan and Noah born at 31 weeks weighing only 1.4 kilos. The film follows their history from now back to the dramatic time of their birth, seamlessly interweaving the story and the product into the climax.

Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain brand created the Unstoppable series of web films with its agency JWT. The films tell the stories of extraordinary individuals that let nothing stop them, exhibiting the characteristics – strength, courage and determination – that the brand wanted to inspire in their teen audience. The depth of these emotive stories is also owed to the unconventional lengths of the films, with two of them each over 10 minutes long.


Branded content has reached the tipping point in Australasia as more brands clamber aboard and try their hand at engaging audiences with storytelling.

As the market grows so do the expectations, and marketers are now looking beyond engagement and awareness metrics for a more robust return on investment. Over the last 12 months there has been a shift towards response-style content, with clear calls-to-action for audiences to help marketers measure the impact of their investment.

The rise of always on content marketing strategies, the development and rollout of a tiered content strategic approach, and all the statistics support a strong and busy future for branded content specialists. We have the crafty creators at the ready. Brands are getting savvier and are implementing planning processes. There is a very bright future for branded content in the Australasian region.

Check out the accompanying 2016 Australasia Expert Insight Report where regional branded content practitioners share their advice about when and how to use branded content, and also their insights into the region’s emerging trends during 2016.

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