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by the BCMA and Tom Curtis

August 2017

The BCMA is in a privileged position to have access to the leading experts and pioneers of the branded content industry. This interview is a part of ‘For The Love of Branded Content’ series which brings together ‘thought-leaders’ from across the globe to share their ‘love’ and advice on what it takes to succeed in the ever-evolving world of branded content.

Tom Curtis, Head of MediaCom Beyond Advertising UK, says he loves the idea of what branded content can do.

Learn more in his short interview below.

1. Why do you love branded content?

Let’s be clear. I don't love most branded content. A lot of it is really rubbish. But some branded content is really excellent. Properly enjoyable. Actually interesting. And might even convince me to buy or do something.

2. What do you love the most about branded content?

If I only love some branded content now, the amount I’ll love in the future will increase.

Not just because a virtually infinite amount more will be created. But because the content I see will get better and better. Algorithms will remove the crap and quality will win. It will be personalised so that it’s relevant to me. And it will be properly designed for the platforms I’m viewing it on.

But most importantly, for me at least, the content that will win will be the content that makes a difference. That’s because at MediaCom Beyond Advertising we believe that brands and the content they produce can truly make a difference.

Of course, that ‘difference’ can be defined in many ways. Having a positive impact on a client’s business – whether in the short or long-term - is a prerequisite.

But content that shifts opinion, has a societal impact, and genuinely benefits others not just the brand itself? Now that’s what I’m really talking about. The campaign we did in the UK with disability charity Scope and Channel 4 genuinely challenged peoples’ perception of disability in a really positive way. That’s what I mean by making the difference. 

And that, if you were to ask me for my best example, would be very close to the top. (I like to keep my options open for the best ever).

I believe the brands that will make the most difference will be the ones that take this thinking and wholeheartedly embrace it, beyond a one-off campaign, and put it at the heart of what they do. Big ideas across multiple channels and multiple campaigns. Not just little bits here and there, sitting alongside their sales-focused TV campaign or other traditional media activity.

Yet with the much of the industry (and many brands) still treating branded content separately to advertising, this is going to be difficult.

The agency landscape we’ve created doesn’t help. Many agencies find themselves fighting  over who should get the ‘content’ brief; publicly saying they want to collaborate whilst concurrently, and inevitably, devising work that will see them take the majority of the pie. It’s not a coincidence when the PR agency says their idea will achieve huge organic reach while the media agency provides a robust paid distribution strategy alongside theirs.

The reality is that agencies can - and should - collaborate. It’s essential.

3. One piece of advice you’d love to give someone undertaking branded content?

So my advice to brands looking to make some branded content is simple. Don’t go into it thinking you want to make some branded content. Go into it thinking you want to create some brand communications that make a difference.

The more you focus on creating branded content the more you’ll get bogged down in the definition of what it is, and the more you’ll struggle to work out who should be doing it for you. Most importantly you’ll find yourself in danger of losing sight of what the activity is supposed to be achieving in the first place: having a positive impact on your business (and in some cases more than just your business).

Likewise, for the vast majority of campaigns, the starting point should never be a TV script. We know what TV can achieve. But don’t start with TV. Start with a brilliant idea that you can then plan across multiple media platforms, of which one might be TV.

That is the way to create a truly integrated campaign.

There is a surprising dearth of activity that starts with an idea, then becomes what might ultimately be classed as branded content, which might then become a TV ad in some shape or form. This is especially surprising when you can learn so much about people’s opinions, interactions or ambivalence towards a piece of content if you test and evolve it first.

I don't love most branded content. But I do love the idea of what branded content can do. Just as long as we don't continue to treat it as an entirely separate entity.