How To Advertise Without Advertising: 5 World-Class Examples of Branded Content

Advertising and marketing can be seen as dirty words. ‘The rattling of a stick in an empty swill bucket’, as George Orwell said. This is because people don’t seek out advertising, they tolerate it in the spaces between the content they do want to see. Advertising is an interruption.
Yet, the majority of advertising is simply a company trying to reach people with a problem to solve and let them know how their product can solve this issue. In order to reach people with advertising, marketers had to add value to these messages, provide content that might persuade more people to visit their site or location. Content marketing is nothing new – but companies are now creating whole, dedicated channels to creating content that brings readers and viewers to them.
So, what if you could make your customers want to see your adverts, even share them with other people, regardless of their need for, or opinion of your product? This is branded content and we’re looking at five companies that are getting it right.

First, here are three reasons why branded content works so well:

  • Great branded content is sought out and shared

The best companies have a platform for their content as well as promoting it through their website or the usual social media channels. Their branded content then brings people to them because the value or entertainment it provides outweighs the issue that it was provided by a company trying to sell you a product.

  • It doesn’t focus on the product

When we say it’s not advertising, we mean it. Successful branded content it all about the content, it’s not just a loose excuse to mention your product. You’ll see in the examples below how companies have used branded content without shoehorning in their product – and how they still manage to enhance sales.

  • It responds to your customers’ needs on an emotional, not practical level

How excited can you ever get about a new soft drink? Or a new type of soap? Not very. What about if this company was using its resources to bring something you actually care about? Would you then be more receptive to their products? This is the basis of branded content and why it works.

We are going to look at five examples of how to create great branded content, learning from the best of the best.

Coca-Cola Journey

Coca-Cola’s unique commodity is not their beverages, but their success and ubiquity. They are woven into the fabric of Western popular culture as one of the most significant consumer products and cultural signifiers of the last century. But the modern world doesn’t like multinational corporations. Trends are leaning towards sustainable, small-scale artisan products, so how do Coca-Cola reconcile this with their brand?
The Coca-Cola Journey news/magazine style branded content is all about keeping up with this shifting market and letting people see how they do business. Their content lets people behind the curtain, it gives them an insight into how a multinational makes their small decisions and how they create their successes. It gives a giant corporation a warmer image and helps them reposition their brand towards a greener, healthier, and friendlier public image. One of their header tabs is sustainability:

Their branded content also promotes their product as part of an aspirational lifestyle. There are recipes, musical performances and other valuable slices of pop culture that we more readily associate their brand with. These take the form of short, easily-digestible, and shareable videos which are more valuable for the casual reader, but it leads us into the world of Coca-Cola and their take on a news platform.
So, as well as driving readers to their interesting and entertaining content, they are also in full control of how their product is perceived. They give you the news which helps them manage the public perception of their brand on a global scale. Coca-Cola has already become part of our lives, the content they produce reflects this and focuses on the improvements it is making. We want to read and share Coca-Cola’s good news because their good news is good news for us, and for the planet.

Dove Real Beauty

Dove uses their customers as the basis of their branded content. They strive to create a sense of self-affirmation that comes from within, rather than from their product. This is at the very heart of branded content – skipping talking about your product and focusing instead on the desired emotion your audience wants to feel. Dove crystallised this idea into a brand mission statement:

“To make women feel comfortable in the skin they are in, to create a world where beauty is a source of confidence and not anxiety.”

They created this mantra to apply to their content and focused on the perception and self-esteem of their audience – not their product. Their goal is to create a positive message of affirmation that can be shared and spread with no ulterior motive. By creating this message around their brand they also managed to separate themselves from the world of fashion and cosmetics which can be viewed as elitist and daunting. They created content which brings a mass market to them and that makes people happy.
Their lead video,for this campaign Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches, has had over 67 million views and doesn’t mention a single product. By using branded content, Dove created a feeling of confidence and inclusion for their entire brand.

Dollar Shave Club

One of the most straightforward methods of creating branding content is also one of the most difficult to execute: make it funny. People will visit funny content. This is Dollar Shave Club’s approach. They then understood that their audience is adult men. What came next was an online magazine with a humorous look at topics that they know their audience are going to want to read. Here’s their pitch:

In the old world of content marketing, you would expect a company like this to perhaps have a blog on their site, with articles such as ‘10 top tips for a closer shave’. This would bring in some organic passer-bys, bump up the SEO rank a little and result in a handful more sales. However, the new climate is to break down the link between the content and product and build up the link between the content and the lifestyle that the consumer is striving for. They create videos under the premise of, ‘we found this interesting – so we think you will too!’.
If a company produces content that you can, and want to, access frequently, and that you are entertained by, then you are more likely to trust that brand. You’re more likely to remember that brand, and ultimately, you’re more likely to purchase from that brand.

Marriott Content Studio

Branded content can be done on any scale and the Marriott chain represents the highest end of the spectrum.
Creating a fully-fledged media company from their marketing department. They have created an online magazine, a TV program and award-winning short film. Their offices resemble a newsroom. They took the idea of branded content and ran with it, turning the idea into a sustainable media outlet that they can use to cover trends and current topics, using them to add to their marketing campaigns.

This media company then acts as a nerve centre for the 19 brands under the Marriott name, connecting with the separate marketing departments for each brand. This allows them to create more customer-focused and up to minute content as they see exactly what resonates with which demographic. If anything in the world is trending, Marriott knows about it. Their team can then create content that responds directly to this buzz and bring traffic to the brand that matches it best. It is truly something to behold!

Red Bull

Red Bull’s brand relies on extremes. They associate their brand with people at the top of their game. The implication being that these people all operate at a certain level, that they approach their tasks with a determination that is not readily found in regular people. Look at the language used in their content platform. Look at the topics they write about. ‘Warrior’, ‘Extreme’, ‘Scariest’ all typify the message Red Bull want you to associate with them.

Red Bull’s branded content is effectively a lifestyle magazine that operates as an arm of their overall brand. They use famous names, attention-grabbing sports and activities, and more everyday topics that attract the uninitiated reader.
As well as the tacit product endorsement they get from contributors, Red Bull’s Red Bulletin inextricably links their product to a sense of success and extremely high performance. This is content that people come back time and time again and an almost perfect example of how to create branded content in a way that even the most cynical consumer can get onboard with.
You’re unlikely to see any mention of their drinks as part of their lifestyle advice, they know that their readers are not here for the hard sell. The results of these efforts will be seen in how their products are perceived, interacted with, before finally, an increase in sales as their brand awareness, trust and position all improve.
The examples here are all from world-beating companies but, the lessons in how they create content that resonates can be applied to a business of any size. There are five different techniques and goals on display the secret to each lies in understanding where your resources outside of your product are – and using them to meet the emotional needs of your consumer.
Ask yourself, what does my customer want from life? – Not what do they want from me. By changing your focus, you make your customers come to you and want to be part of the story you create.