Branded entertainment is becoming more and more relevant for brands looking to get their message in front of their target market. But here’s a question you might not have considered when it comes to creating your own branded content: If 95% of the box office wins are happening in the scripted space, why is it that 95% of the branded entertainment in the marketplace is based on the documentary format?



Here at Fifty Square Feet we did some digging and here is what we suspect is going on:

Documentaries are safe because they can’t really flop. Even if the subject matter doesn’t excite someone, or it doesn’t reach as large an audience as you had hoped, the worst-case scenario is a lower rate of engagement. Even if your engagement is low, if information presented is true there will likely be a market for it. This is not the case in the scripted space. When presenting scripted entertainment it’s imperative that you grab people’s attention and keep it. This requires creativity, thoughtful production, and let’s be honest, it also involves risk. Scripted fiction or drama is a risk because you’re trying to make a judgment call on what others will find entertaining. There is less room for error, but there’s also much more room for impact.

Here’s the thing many don’t realize — staying safe is one of the riskiest moves you can take. Marketing guru Seth Godin says that taking a risk is actually one of the safest things you can do these days. Why? Because everyone else is playing it safe. If you want to stay relevant in the marketplace you must take risks. Staying safe is what leads to irrelevance. And, the last time we checked irrelevant isn’t winning any awards.

branded entertainment

Branded Entertainment is not a Long Form Commercial

While it is risky, when branded entertainment is done right the benefits far exceed the costs. So, how do you get it right? First and foremost we recommend you keep in mind this very important distinction: Branded entertainment is not a long-form commercial. This is where we see many companies with the best of intentions get it wrong. Branded entertainment, while it can have product placement, cannot be all about the product in the way an advertisement can. This means you cannot give people a list of features and benefits, you cannot spout off a bunch of statistics or competitor analysis, and you absolutely must leave out asking for the sale. It’s enough to make any general marketer probably cringe, and rightfully so. Think about it: you’re spending what is presumably a hefty investment on a piece of content and you’re not including a standard call to action at the end. Risky? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

Branded entertainment does so much more for your business than just create brand recognition. It reaches your fans right where they are. It entertains people, and it gets them sharing your content in an organic way. While it’s true that people will ultimately rationalize their purchase decision with logic, they first engage their emotional thinking in making the decision to buy or not to buy. Once they are emotionally tied to the idea of a purchase they will then reinforce that decision with a logical look at the facts. Not the other way around.

branded entertainment

Why Customer Attention Matters

If you’ve paid attention to market trends and demographics it will probably come as no surprise to learn that the millennial generation will soon be the generation with the most buying power in society. They are also vastly different from their parents in terms of how they make buying decisions. When it comes to brand loyalty and product recognition it has been reported that only 1% of millennials are convinced they should purchase a product because of advertising. On the other hand, 43% of those polled stated that they valued authenticity when it came to product content. This opens up a huge opportunity for companies that are willing to put in the time to create something of value and entertainment for their audiences.

Millennials also want a great user experience. It’s not enough to just have great products anymore. It must reach across the page or screen and make them want to interact, view, and share. If you want to reach what will soon be the biggest market available you must consider other ways of getting their attention. Branded entertainment is a choice that makes sense as it allows you to entertain your potential customers, while getting them to like your brand. Once they know who you are and like what you stand for, they are much more likely to take the next step and trust you with their business. Now more than ever the experience is just as important as the actual product or service you’re selling.

Two examples of Branded entertainment done right:

So, now that you know branded entertainment is one of the fastest ways to get your brand in front of the right people and hold their attention you’re probably wondering what are the best practices in this relatively new field? Below we dive into two examples of brands that get it right in branded content.

branded entertainment


BMW was a step ahead of everyone in the branded entertainment game when they released their 2001 campaign “The Hire.” This multi-series branded entertainment campaign became the gold standard that future branded content would be considered against. This mini-series of eight episodes featured Clive Owens as the main actor, was directed by some of the best directors in the industry, and was a high quality production. “The Hire” worked first and foremost because it was highly entertaining. People were sharing the content, coming back for more, and approximately 94% of viewers were recommending it to others. Each episode was like a mini movie with great scripting, acting, and high production quality. Even though the car was ultimately the “hero” of the story it was never promoted overtly. BMW took a huge risk as they were the first to approach branded entertainment in this way. The big question of course is, “Did it work?” Well, BMW saw a 12% increase in sales in 2001 and had over 2 million people register on their site for information as a result. While we’re not suggesting that every brand go out and find A-list directors and up and coming movie stars to create content, the spirit in which they created “The Hire” should ring true in your campaign as well. Here are some questions to consider: How can you entertain your audience in a way that gets them excited to not only watch, but also share your content? How can you get them coming back to see more? How can you use the principles of good storytelling to create a story that connects with your reader?

branded entertainment

Lincoln Motor Company

Another car company that got it right with regards to branded content was Lincoln Motor Company. Lincoln was looking to make a shift in the public’s perception of their company. Rather than shout their new and improved identity from the rooftops they decided to let viewers come to their own conclusions by releasing a branded entertainment campaign. When they launched their “Drive” campaign featuring Matthew McConaughey, it instantly reframed the company’s identity and brought relevance to their brand. Rather than copy the branded content that came before them they had a fresh idea in giving McConaughey unscripted subjects to riff about during filming. The end result resonated with their target market: young adults looking for authenticity. While many loved the campaign, it did become the brunt of several parodies, some by well-known celebrities. What might come as a surprise is that these parodies did not hurt sales at all. While not part of Lincoln’s original plan, even the parodies helped boost sales for the company. People were interested in what Lincoln was doing, and they wanted to be part of the movement. This type of brand transformation was simply not possible in the past when brands were stuck with traditional advertising methods to get the word out about a new identity and message. What would normally take years to accomplish practically happened overnight.

Following the success of their first campaign, Lincoln continued to produce more branded entertainment and they have experienced positive results in not only sales but also their brand recognition as a leading choice in car companies.

Creating a Lifestyle

So, now that you know what has worked for other brands in the branded entertainment space, you may be wondering what is the main purpose of branded entertainment? Simply put, it’s to promote a lifestyle to your audience. As a brand, you need to produce branded entertainment that either speaks to the lifestyle your customers currently have, or the lifestyle that they aspire to have. We cannot stress it enough that people are tired of being sold to. They want to feel connected to the brands they use, and they want a reason to believe in the brand that goes beyond the features and benefits. More than ever the brands people purchase say a lot about who they are. When someone chooses to drive a Tesla it speaks to his or her lifestyle, which is very different from that of someone who chooses a Porsche. The brands you use are a way to communicate who you are and what you stand for. Now more than ever it’s important for companies to be clear on their own brand values and then create content that helps solidify that dream in their client’s minds.

branded entertainment

The Future of Branded Content

Where is branded content going? If we had to make a few predictions as to where branded entertainment is going we would say it’s going to continue to grow and become a bigger part of all agencies and brands. Our prediction is that by the year 2018 we may even seen the first Oscar actually going to a piece of branded entertainment. As the lines begin to blur and there is more crossover between what has classically been known as entertainment and this new form of branded entertainment we predict that we’ll start to see more and more brands becoming household names not only for the products they sell but also for their entertainment value.

Where to Go From Here

If you aren’t in the branded entertainment game at this point, the first step is to get in the arena. It’s a good idea to jump in early and claim your spot in the field before your competitors do. Second, know that the days of making a simple documentary style film are over. There is just too much entertainment vying for the attention of your target market and you need to take into account who they are, what lifestyle they both have and desire, and what matters most to them. Focus on the story and create something scripted that will mean something to them. People want to escape reality whether they’re watching a motion picture in a movie theater or a piece of branded content at home on their laptop. If you can reach them through connection and true emotion they are more likely to share the content. That means more potential customers brought to you organically. When you start working on your first piece approach it like a film producer or director. What can you do to get people watching and sharing? The sales will come if the content is superb. Take a risk, do something different, and watch the way it transforms your brand for the better.

Need some help creating branded entertainment that connects to your target market? Here at Fifty Square Feet we specialize in helping agencies and brands create branded entertainment that will get their target market watching, sharing, and ultimately buying. Ready to find out how we can help you become the next big thing in branded entertainment? Get in touch.