Tell Me a Story: Branded Content That Works

Updated on February 10, 2020.


As commercials grow in size and scope, customers are becoming more wary of excessive advertisement. They skip YouTube ads or switch the channel to avoid commercials. Even product placement has audiences skeptical, since it can seem out-of-place in television shows and film.

To avoid that problem, companies are integrating branded content marketing into videos and movies from the start, so that the brand is subtle, but essential to the overall narrative. David Beebe, Marriott’s Vice President of global creative and content marketing, observes that brands should “stop interrupting what people are interested in, and become what they’re interested in.”

From inspiring real-life stories to quirky short films, these branded video series and films are compelling enough to take the spotlight, but still effective for advertising. Let’s take a look at the different strategies they use to promote their product.


Incorporate Products in a Subtle Way


The key for good branded content is that customers don’t realizing they’re watching advertisements. For example, let’s look at Nike’s branded film “The Switch,” in which soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo swaps bodies with a teenage fan.


The film rarely mentions Nike itself; the logo only appears in the title screen and on the characters’ clothes. By showing both characters wearing Nike gear throughout the film, the audience associates the brand with every step of an athlete’s journey.


With this in mind, brands should think about why people purchase their product. What do they aspire for, and how can the product help with these goals? By understanding these motivations, companies can use subtle product placement to market themselves as a key part of customers’ personal journeys, as Nike does in this film.


Another way to include products subtly is to work with known directors, who will make branded content in their own personal style. For example, Wes Anderson teamed up with designer fashion brand Prada for the film CASTELLO CAVALCANTI. The film fits right in with his visual style as a filmmaker, so it connects his fans as a new audience for Prada. By collaborating with known directors, companies have more creative license to incorporate the product throughout the film, instead of inserting it at the end. This way, the branded video content is a product the collaboration between both parties, not just a one-sided mode of product marketing. Although not all companies can afford famous directors, this strategy can be quite valuable for creating authentic, entertaining branded content.


Brands can also communicate with customers by giving them advice, as does in “Dream Home Tips with Elizabeth Banks.” In the series, Banks and a fictional companion give practical tips for buying and selling houses; each minute-long episode focuses on a different piece of advice. Similar to Nike, keeps in mind what potential customers want. In this case, customers use for help with the home-buying process, and the “Dream Home Tips” videos offer just that. By giving useful advice, brands establish their credibility without forcing their product on audiences.


Show the Product in Action



Alternatively, brands can make the product the focus by showing what it can do. The key with this strategy, though, is to choose captivating examples.

Intel’s video series “Meet the Makers” shows how inventors are using Intel products in their creations. For example, thirteen-year-old Shubham Banerjee made an affordable braille printer that allows blind people to read. By showing how real people use Intel products, especially for social good, customers get a more tangible sense of how they can use Intel in their own lives.


Zipcar’s “Go Already!” video series shows the adventures people can take thanks to Zipcar. Each episode features the protagonist getting into his Zipcar with a friend, ready for a new excursion. Although we don’t see the characters actually driving, we see that Zipcar allows you to go anywhere, from a camping trip to a furniture store. This way, people associate the brand with adventure and friendship. When you have your car and a friend, the possibilities are endless.


Entertain the Audience


Your video might show off all the amazing features of your product, but if it bores the audience, no one will want to watch it. Like any good video, branded video content should compel viewers in some way, whether it’s through humor or suspense.


Let’s look again at Nike’s “The Switch.” Director Ringan Ledwidge succeeds at showing and not telling: He fits the teenager’s extensive journey to professional soccer in a few clips of late-night practices, frequent drills, and fast-paced matches.


Instead of telling us that the teen improves his soccer skills, we see it happen before our eyes, so we never get bored during those six minutes of video. Brands should keep this classic narrative strategy in mind for any form of advertising, whether it’s a 30-second commercial or a branded film.


“Dream Home Tips with Elizabeth Banks” embraces a quirky premise to charm audiences. Each special guest sitting with Elizabeth Banks is a person or object that Banks dreamed about (hence the title, “Dream Home Tips”). These characters are quite odd–imagine chatting with a dust bunny or a unicorn – but they give credible advice on buying a home. Nevertheless, Banks has a dysfunctional relationship with these dream characters, which results in comical and sometimes awkward banter. Through this offbeat humor and Banks’s experienced comedic timing, “Dream Home Tips” gives home-buying advice in a memorable, endearing way.


In the end, don’t be intimidated by branded video content. Successful branded content follows the same strategies as any successful video or film: It’s compelling and honest, and it tells a story. To stand out in the marketing world, though, it must integrate the product seamlessly. That’s why brands should use the product as inspiration for the content. Product inspired content means subtle placement can drive the narrative. When a good product translates into a good narrative, the result is a captivated audience.


Kristen Lee, Content Creation at Green Buzz Agency.

Emily Herman contributed to this post.