Independent Branded Content is to content marketing what organic food is to your body. Delicious, healthy, non-fattening, energetic, easily digested and highly efficient. Unlike its health food counterpart though, it is less expensive than the ad agency brand-processed version.
Yet ironically, it is the processed version that is consumed overwhelmingly and eventually eaten up by the audience – at a higher price and lower efficiency (sounds like junk food would you say?).
Simply because brands pay for distribution and for their content to get seen while for indie content to get distributed, it has to be intrinsically good – that is pass the Darwinian selection test of thriving on its own merit, then only it may get broadcasted/distributed and the content creator getting paid – hence reversing the paradigm.
Indie Branded Content (IBC) includes music, videos and films created by independent directors, artists and producers who keep creative control of their films and video content, documentaries, events, series, comics, animations and/or indie narrative films because they believe in the story and have an underlying passion to create this program/art piece as they see it. Yet IBC gets ‘branded’ one way or another, within the content itself and/or on its packaging, marketing and/or merchandising. Mostly because the content creator needs funding, yet sees a natural fit with the brand.
The key to success here is keeping ‘creative control’ with the artist/producer. If it gets transferred to the brand or to the agency, the content instantly gets tainted and it starts smelling funny, like fish out of the water. And most consumers will see through it in a blink.
Provided it gets distributed, IBC will be seen by the audience with no media buy attached. In fact it is the distributor/broadcaster who will pay for it. That means it will reach its natural audience on its own because of its inherent entertainment value. At that point, IBC gathers tremendous value for any brand sponsor, because it instantly becomes a potential organic marketing vehicle with massive reach – without the massive price tag attached to media buying. But to achieve that prowess, content must be so good broadcasters and distributors are willing to pay for it, instead of getting paid to air it.
The same is true online, even though technically everyone gets distributed on YouTube, the real judge there is the audience (who decides who is truly ‘broadcasted’ to the masses). If it is not good, it won’t get viewed that many times, passed along and go viral – as opposed to a video that would gather millions of views because it is just great (except of course for skateboard cats, dogs, puppies and babies – but these are a different species altogether).
If it was not relevant IBC would not exist at all. Because ‘independent’ content only gets to be seen if it is relevant to the category of people it was created for: the people also known as the audience. Whether that audience is massive or targeted, on TV, VOD and/or online, its endorsement depends on the appeal of the indie content itself, the theme, the entertainment value, the quality of the finished product, etc… in sum its relevancy to a specific audience.
Audiences are naturally more likely to trust a documentary, an indie musician or an independent narrative film (think Documentary for instance vs. James Bond), than believing that Pierce Brosnan sports an Omega watch or that Beyoncé drinks Pepsi because they dig these products. The assumption is that the “indie” features the product because he/she likes it or that the same product ends up within the program because it is organically better than another one. Now, whether that is true or not is another story.
There are a variety of ways brands may benefit from IBC: from curating the content and communicating with it, to investing in its production, to getting associated with it through its promotion once it is done, including distributing part of it through its social media and online channels. The brand may even become part of the storyline (through seamless and logical product placement in a film for example). As long as the content matches the brand’s territory (values, emotions, market, audience) it makes sense and benefits the brand.
There are two issues though: IBC usually gets distribution green light when it is finished and ready for prime time, so the brand may need to take a risk by investing earlier in the process, before the program is guaranteed to get mass distribution. The other is the willingness for the brand to give up creative control. Most marketing executives would still see that as unnecessary risk and may shy from it.
The potential ROI is rather high (10x to 50x in our experience) compared to the initial investment. Think of it this way: an indie film may cost anywhere from $500,000 to a few millions (a viral video a few thousands to $100k) yet once it is distributed it will be featured in theatres, festivals, VOD, online, on the news and will most likely end up its run on TV – generating millions of organic views and earned media for the brand(s) in it – without a single dollar in media buy, since it is the media (or the public) that pays to see the film… added bonus: if the brand invest in production it may see its investment back in cash as the film generates revenues. Communication that pays for itself, now that’s a “concept”.
So why more brands still don’t see the benefit of going indie? Because it is out of the box thinking, uncharted territory, and no one ever got fired for doing what their boss did before them – over and over for the last 60 years or so. Second because there are perceived risks, in giving up creative control and in investing in content that may flop…
Like ads don’t ever flop. Right?