The Unfulfilled Promise of Branded Content.

Whenever a prospective investor used to contact me, he or she assumed that we were printing money because the vast majority of our “lifestyle” (food, travel, etc.) videos looked as if there was a marketer footing the bill for them – that is, like branded content — but they were, in fact, not. 

In all honesty, part of our motivation to work with brands was to cast a brand expert in the video to augment the authenticity of its content.  But without a doubt, the long-term objective was to eventually transition those “earned media” (from the perspective of the brand) placements to “paid media,” even if I remained cynical and doubtful of the real prospects for branded content.  Yes: the stats suggest that branded content is a more effective form of brand building than advertising, but the reality is that advertising is easy, whereas branded content simply is not.

These days, you have to be living under a rock not to have heard the term native advertising.  There’s no single, commonly accepted definition for it.  But whereas native advertising implies one thing for non-content producers like Twitter and Facebook, I think that for producers and publishers of content, the line between native advertising and branded content (or advertorial) is way too slim to matter.  To me, it’s essentially one and the same for all intents and purposes because the native product or offering of a publisher is content, and as such, native advertising would simply be content that appears to be in-line with the publisher’s day-to-day programming. 

However, always the cynic, I think that part of the reason why so many have jumped on the native advertising buzzword is because the branded content moniker failed to deliver on its much-ballyhooed promise.  Yes, this year’s Newfronts are expected to pull in a lot of big marketer attention and budgets, but that may be because we’re now expanding the definition to include non-video components, and, well, we’re including the budgets that go to the traditional media’s online offerings.  This is all acceptable, fine and dandy in an age of transmedia and convergence (yay: more buzzwords!) but when you consider that we live in a world where consumers use the Web to try to catch the suspects in a marathon bombings, you’d figure that they would be savvy enough to find out if a piece of content is paid for by a marketer or not.

I advise marketers that in light of the fact that $65 billion is spent on TV advertising, 86% of people skip TV commercials, then they may want to consider branded content as one of the many tools in their arsenal.  However, they should also accept the reality that consumers will never view branded content or native advertising for anything more than it is.

by Ashkan Karbasfrooshan
Ashkan Karbasfrooshan is CEO of, a producer of premium video content.
Courtesy of MediaPost

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