Brand content producers must overcome a “higher bar” than editorial colleagues if they are to engage audiences, a panel of content experts has claimed.
Matt McAllister, editor of Newsweek Europe, was speaking this morning (21 October) at the World Media Group’s first Masterclass in Storytelling in London.
He argued that brands must find a way to fit into conventional narrative structures, without appearing incongruous or distracting for consumers: “The bar is very high [for brand content]. Sponsored content is almost like saying, ‘Please don’t read this.’
“Stories are about human beings, so selling brands is a challenge, because you have to turn them into human beings. Stories are about people who are in trouble – the hero’s journey is the classic story, trying to overcome something, and that is difficult to put into branded content,” he said.
The session, moderated by Irene Mia, global editorial director at The Economist, also featured contributions from Bloomberg Media EMEA commercial editor Arif Durrani; New York Times T Brand Studio International director Raquel Bubar; MediaCom Beyond Advertising (MBA) worldwide content lead Libby Wright; and MEC EMEA social media director Maria Dsouza.
MBA’s Wright agreed that brands must find a means of creating an “emotional connection” with readers and viewers, and that people “need to care” about the story. It may not be a “popular conversation”, she said, but advertisers should be dissuaded from producing content that will not resonate.
“Clients inherently think [their brands] are more interesting than they might be. They are passionate. We have to do a lot of insight [work] to bring audience consideration in there. You can’t let someone tell a story when there are no characters or challenge,” said Wright.
Agency and media owner partners must be clear about clients’ expectations and outcome requirements before setting out on any content project, argued MEC’s Dsouza.
“Some of the biggest challenges is that a lot of the upfront insights and thinking hasn’t been done. Then it becomes a mad rush to get things through the door. You need to get your fundamentals done on, as tedious as it might be. It’s crucial to getting the execution right,” she said.
However, despite the obstacles to growth in brand content, Bloomberg’s Durrani spread an upbeat message, pointing out the influx of talent into the space: “The reputation of advertorial [content] over the last decade isn’t a good one.
“[But] it has really moved on because of technology, because – not least – traditional journalism is under threat, so journalists are going into branded journalism.”