Branded Content 101

By Chris Advansun, Digital Content Strategist, Venture Communications

All forms of marketing come down to good content. Search engine marketing attempts to attract users to what? Content. It could be a blog post, product demo, sales page, a Facebook page or a how-to video. But it’s all content. The same is true of social media; social media is all about connecting and sharing. Sharing what? Content. Having a content strategy is a natural and crucial extension of any company’s web presence and digital strategy, whether you’re a start-up or a small to medium-sized business.

When I talk about branded content, people sometimes think I’m talking about so-called advertorial or persuasive advertising content masquerading as editorial. The principle driving branded content is precisely the opposite. Instead of being intrusive and of minimal value to its audience, branded content creates real value, in the form of entertainment or information. This is what’s so exciting about this trend; instead of wrapping advertising around the content, brands can now be the content.

The strategy behind branded content doesn’t begin with a brand’s desired message. It starts with insights into a brand’s desired audience. We start by understanding our target audience, and then we create content that informs and entertains them. Then, having created a content property, we integrate the brand.

This insight is far from new. The first soap operas were developed by consumer product brands as a product placement vehicle. Those original soaps entertained and captivated the audience responsible for household purchasing while subtly (and sometimes blatantly) introducing products. What’s new is not the basic tactics of branded content but the fact that the costs of digital content creation and distribution have lowered dramatically. Even small companies can inexpensively produce high-quality content and distribute it on platforms like Facebook, iPhone, Hulu, Vuze and YouTube. Today, you don’t need to have the budget of Proctor & Gamble to produce a scripted drama and get it in front of millions of viewers. What you do need, however, is a strong concept, high-quality production and built-in virality.

A modern-day example of branded content is, an online destination full of insightful content for businesspeople. The property is entirely supported by American Express. It’s a great example of branded content in action.

Instead of spending on an advertising campaign, AMEX invested in its own digital media property, They recruited a bunch of celebrity authors and high-profile bloggers to contribute articles and videos on marketing, management, finance and other subjects. Then they used social media to generate buzz and attract audience.

AMEX uses the site and its content as a way to generate leads for AMEX Open, one of its credit products for small businesses. You can apply for the card right on the site, which gets tons of traffic because of its fantastic search and social media optimization. And this is just one example. Many other brands are creating and distributing their own dramatic web series, reality shows and other types of content.

I believe it’s an exciting time for brands and marketers to start exploring and forging their futures with branded content. That’s why I founded the inaugural Branded Content Summit, taking place in Toronto on June 4. It is a gathering where companies, marketers, content producers and media convene to understand and profit from the shift toward branded content. For more information, visit


About Chris Advansun 

Chris-AdvansunChris Advansun is an entrepreneur, writer, digital media expert and marketing professional. He has co-founded a handful of start-up companies and volunteer initiatives. He currently lives in Toronto, where he works as a digital content strategist for Venture Communications, an integrated marketing communications firm.

By Adam

May 11, 2010