Branded content is a form of advertising media, many times video, that blurs the lines between advertising and entertainment.  It is essentially a fusion of the two distributed as entertainment content.  Branded content is generally funded entirely by a brand or corporation.  The term branded content really took hold as a new marketing technique in 2001, when The Hire was produced and distributed on the internet, featuring a series of short films by Hollywood “A-List” directors, with the BMW car as the real star of the action.

Image source: Shutterstock

It is currently a really hot topic of discussion among agencies, brands and publishers right now and is at the top of the list of what we are talking about to our clients at Stone Ward. I recently read an article on by Josh Sternberg, Time to Define Native Advertising, that I thought was excellent.  I felt like he had read my mind when talked about the confusion around the different names people, particularly the media, are throwing around in this category and then gives great simple definitions of each.  Because, like he says, we’ve all heard buzzwords like “native advertising,” “native content,” “sponsored content” and “content marketing.”  And all of these mean different things to different people.

Josh then provides a simple guide to help understand the different meanings of those terms which I’ve summarized below.

Native Advertising:  When an ad unit can only be bought and displayed on one platform, think Facebook’s Sponsored Stories, Twitter’s Promoted Tweets and YouTube promoted videos.  These ad units are unique to those environments and appear to be in-line with the publisher’s day-to-day programming.

Sponsored or Branded Content:  When you pay a publisher to have your brand and/or message associated with a particular story.  It typically takes the form of a brief intro informing readers that the article is sponsored by an advertiser.  Like “Brought to you by” or “Sponsored by”.  The publisher produces and has control over the content, not the brand.  In the old days we called these “Advertorials”.

Content Marketing:  A catchall phrase that encompasses all of the above.  But basically it means “not banner ads”.  In this situation, you create content and experiences people want to consumer while conveying your brand message.  For example: Red Bull’s hair-raising stunts and action-sports content.  Or on a different level, American Express producing tools and content that is useful or needed by small-business owners.