BCMA World View – Through our expanding network of BCMA Chapters, Affiliates and Partners, we strive to give our members a unique global perspective on branded content from across the globe.
Our exclusive series, offers an insight into what is happening around the world. We focus on Italy and hear from our partners at Osservatorio Branded Entertainment (OBE)
Tracing the boundaries of a market means understanding how much that market is economically worth, and which are the dominant subjects and dynamics that characterize that specific industry.
In the case of branded entertainment, the difficulties of finding an objective and shared definition are also reflected in the development of a reliable and effective methodology to size investments of investor companies.
In Italy, market surveys promoted by the OBE (Osservatorio Branded Entertainment), in collaboration with Havas Media, are based on qualitative-quantitative interviews aimed at sector managers holding responsibility for branded entertainment projects. These individuals tend to pertain to three different clusters: investor companies, creative agencies, and production companies; broadcasters and publishers.
The questionnaire includes questions on the projects managed, the type and extent of the budget, and finally, an estimate of the approximate activities for the following year.
The results show that the branded entertainment market has been growing steadily since 2014. As a matter of fact, in just five years, investments have increased by 161%, from 170 million euros in December 2014 to 444 million euros at the end of 2018, with growth reaching an astonishing + 23.3% compared to 2017.
It is a very significant trend, especially when compared with the average indicators of the communication market, characterized in recent years by relatively stagnant investments.
The reasons for this growth are many.
On the one hand, the multiplication of distribution channels which, combined with the increasing preference of ad-free mediatic contexts, leads Brands to experiment with new forms of communication that reach their audiences more efficiently compared to the more traditional communication methodologies.
On the other hand, content types that are better suited to capture and maintain the attention of even very segmented audiences thanks to their inherent enterprising, cross-media, and cross-device nature.
These phenomena, visible on the Italian market, are almost identical if we go beyond national borders. The global level branded entertainment market grew more than 8% in 2017, registering 14% in the product placement segment and 14.4% in the Content Marketing segment, which most closely corresponds to the Italian definition of branded entertainment.
In addition to quantitative growth, the branded entertainment sector also records many qualitative changes, demonstrating a progressive maturation and sophistication of the strategies implemented.
Product placement marketing has registered a decrease in its importance, seen as pure product visibility, and, therefore, as a relatively simple and not very flexible communication tool. Authentic branded entertainment where the brand, being a producer or co-producer of the publishing project, can more effectively shape the content by integrating it with its brand message and making it consistent with its own strategic needs. Specifically, with 100 being the total of investments on product placement and branded entertainment, the percentage of the first went from 28% in 2017 to 26% in 2018. Therefore, in line with the international market, we can see that PP and BE are both still growing, but with an increasingly clear market trend towards this second form of communication.
As we move on focusing on branded entertainment, we notice that in recent years, there has been an increase in original content. For example, innovative formats created ex-novo by client companies, compared to the more straightforward brand integration where the customer becomes part of a pre-existent publishing project. This trend has caused original productions to reach 76% of the total branded entertainment projects in 2018, compared to 73% in the previous year.
This trend has been partly influenced by the branded entertainment formats; particularly, by the increasing concentration of investments in video formats. In 2018, over 60% of those interviewed declared that they had invested their budget mainly in the form of ‘filmed production’.
(Internet video, Television Program, Digital/Paper publications, Events (Addressed through media), Short/Long movie, Music Video, Games App)
The survey went on to investigate the strategic goal that companies set out to achieve, thanks to a branded entertainment project. 74% of those interviewed referred to “upper funnel” objectives, therefore linked to image building, positioning, or generically to the reputation of the brand.
It is interesting to note this percentage has increased in comparison to 59% in 2017, eroding the percentage of those who place themselves on a tactical level (passed from 17% to 8%) or lower funnel (from 24% to 17%).
Specifically, over 60% of respondents said they used branded entertainment to work on brand identity and values (68%) or to increase notoriety levels (64%).
Although this survey demonstrates progressive maturation on the evaluation of branded entertainment (for example, a decrease in the use of branded entertainment as a form of experimentation), measurement processes are still far from completion.
While the majority of respondents focus on the general “upper funnel” objectives, performance indicators are very often linked to the simple distribution of content (audience measurement: 67% of respondents) or interaction with the consumer (engagement measurement: 73% of respondents).
Engagement KPI’s (like, share, fan base increase), Audience KPI’s (average listener base, coverage, GRPs, digital views, etc), brand awareness, web traffic KPI’s, brand reputation (through web listening), brand equity, leads, direct commerce, customer loyalty/ intention to buy increase, Company DB increase, Customer Satisfaction, Other (specify), None of the above.
Goal achievements survey results are encouraging for the sector: 92% are satisfied with the results and believe they have achieved their goals, where the 36% claim to have met them completely.
Surely, this is one of the reasons that caused investments to rise continuously: at the end of 2019, the market has reached 506 million euros, 14% higher compared to the previous year, according to OBE estimates.
Branded entertainment is thus confirmed as one of the communication levers with one of the highest growth rates on the market, with an overall value so vital that it can be fully credited to the critical tools in the hands of companies to reach their consumers.
Effectiveness and KPI: Digital video branded entertainment
One of the most critical and debated issues in the world of communication is that of measuring results.
In the case of branded entertainment projects, influencer marketing, sponsorships and, in general, tools other than the planning of commercials and classic display advertising, the subject of measurement is made even more critical by the absence or lack of precision in identification of significant and shared KPIs.
To answer the market, in 2018, OBE (Osservatorio Branded Entertainment) decided to build a model for measuring the effectiveness of branded entertainment, starting from the digital sector and in particular, the video format. The choice was dictated by the trends in the branded entertainment market in Italy, where the video and digital sector are growing, both in terms of the number of projects completed and investments.
To identify significant KPIs and to define a measurement model, we started from the analysis of digital video branded entertainment projects produced in Italy. They were segmented and selected based on criteria of significance and representativeness until the identification of the 150 video objects of the research.
The analysis also led to the definition of 8 content categories in which to segment digital video projects:
- Short films: short films in which the plot / story is scripted (fiction) and includes the use of actors.
- Tutorial: video with an educational approach that explains / shows / teaches how to do something.
- Music video: music video in which music is the protagonist.
- Docu-factual: production that combines scripted elements with “improvisations” / real-life scenes. The actors/participants are “prepared” to interact within the production. It can be one video, or it can include multiple episodes.
- Comedy sketch: videos shot in situations (generally one per episode) based on interaction or comedy. The set is typically unique, and the format is scripted with actors.
- Web series: serial series built for the web whose story follows seriality and is entirely scripted.
- Social experiment: a video that involves ordinary people and plays on unscripted, or on the reactions that people can have when they have not been prepared/are not actors.
- Talent / Talkshow: productions that involve people who confront or compete to win something / become someone. It has a contest/play component, generally involving a presenter and ordinary people, and is shot in the studio.
After identifying the case histories, the analysis was divided in two phases. One first exploratory phase, which involved 50 people through a digital qualitative path and allowed the identification of the 18 most relevant factors for the construction of a model of effective measurement. A second phase involving extensive measurement and mapping, in which 10,000 interviews were carried out on a digital population between 18 and 64, which, in addition to generating strategic evidence and fundamental insights for the construction of active branded entertainment, led to the creation of the measurement model.
The factors on which to evaluate the effectiveness of digital branded entertainment video are segmentable into three areas, consisting of 6 elements each:
- Video features – the fundamental factors for the evaluation of a video, whatever the objective, characteristics, and distribution. They constitute the structure of a video, regardless of the media used in the distribution phase, online or offline, and irrespective of whether it is content created by or for a brand: actors – the protagonists of the video, famous or not; music – the soundtrack of the video; setting – the setting of the setting; duration – always important factor that assumes, due to the medium, an increasing importance; history – the story/plot; video quality – technical quality, from directing to production.
- Content KPIs (digital) – the elements that give us the effectiveness of the object of analysis as video content distributed in a digital environment: appeal – the general appreciation similar to the social concept of likes; relevance – the ability of a video to go beyond satisfaction by stimulating audience interest; catching – in a hyper-crowded environment, is the ability to “activate” the video; stucking – the propensity to watch the video in its entirety; continuity – the horizontal tie, the desire to see similar episodes or subsequent episodes; wom-ability – the ability of the video to generate desire for sharing.
- Brand KPIs – necessary elements since Content KPIs are not sufficient to build a solid model of branded entertainment analysis which, to be effective, must also (or above all) generate a return for the brand that funds the project: uniqueness – the unique relationship between the brand and the content (as for traditional advertising, the rule holds that if a campaign can be adapted to multiple brands, it risks being ineffective for everyone); right presence – is the “balance” or balance of the brand within the video; brand fit – is the consistency between brand and content; discover – the ability, through a discovery to increase the “familiarity” of the brand (elements, values, associations, perceptions that involve an upgrade of brand awareness, a change in the relationship between consumer and brand); brand lift or image improvement – often a consequence of the previous point, or the ability of a video to improve the perceived image of that brand. A content, however effective, cannot modify the positioning but, as in a sort of Lego strategy, it is important to structure it in order to add a coherent brick on the brand equity tower. Finally, brand consideration – an increase in the propensity towards the brand, which may involve a higher intention to buy or even generate the desire to have more information by visiting the store, the site or becoming an Instagram follower.
The CO.BRA. model and Brand Consideration
These are the 18 elements on which OBE has built the measurement model of digital video projects, called CO.BRA. from the initials of the two keywords: Content and Brand. But not all the elements have equal importance for the measurement, the impact of these on the effectiveness of a project has been evaluated based on the ability to influence the brand consideration. A culinary maxim states that “in the kitchen, spices are important, but there are more important ingredients.”
Regarding the constituent elements of video or video features, it emerges that a story is undoubtedly the most crucial factor, the one that most impacts brand consideration: without a story, there is no branded entertainment. Even if, as in the theatre, the times must be respected, and in the second place is, in fact, duration. Turning to Content KPI’s, the central insight that emerges is that likes are not enough: in terms of impact, relevance, continuity and, above all, wom-ability, or the ability to generate shares, are more relevant than appreciation: a correlation – that between wom-ability and brand consideration – which, in the presence of a strong history with an integrated brand, is the first step to develop brand advocacy. We close with KPI’s Brands: we need to offer discovery. It is essential to intrigue the audience and make them “learn” something more about the brand, the only way to guarantee an uplift of equity and image perception. And of course, you have to do it consistently.
Considering culinary metaphors, it is said that the dishes of a starred restaurant must be both beautiful and tasteful. Similarly, successful branded entertainment must equally perform both as content (to be liked) and as a brand (to be useful). Based on these considerations, two synthetic indexes have been constructed that summarize the performance of the video both as “digital content” and as branded entertainment.
The “Content Index” – which defines whether the content works – is a necessary but not sufficient condition if not in the presence of another value, that is, the “Brand Index” – which defines how much that content is effective on the brand. We submitted each video to the two tests, assessing their performance on both indices, and only 42% showed a positive return in both values. In the other cases, we had good performances of content or brand and in others, a failure in both the two leading indices. One aspect to take into consideration is that synthetic indexes are often not enough; they are not always able, on their own, to give the details and provide the answers. The analysis of effectiveness is also analysis of the gaps and it is fundamental to evaluate the performance of individual KPI’s in order to extract useful strategic indications from the data.
If sometimes communication is a ‘land of compromise’, in the case of branded entertainment, the compromise can become dangerous. If you do not convert narration in entertainment, no content will work effectively on the brand. In essence, making branded entertainment means moving from advertising to entertainment that must be followed by the rules, above all by going beyond the now obsolete concept of “target” and adopting the most advanced and complex concept of audience. Among the insights that emerged from the research, first of all it is clear that history is the essential element: as we have said, without history there is no branded entertainment. But we must ask ourselves an important question: what story are we telling?
The brand cannot be an appearance, it must be able to tell itself in a way that is consistent with the context and the target, always keeping in mind that each story must hold some surprises. And, as we have seen, the timing must be respected: the duration of the video, although very relevant, does not have an optimal or discriminating factor of the success of the video itself. We find 2 or 3-minute videos both between projects with both positive indices, and between projects with poor performance on both; and so, it also happens to videos over 15 minutes. The ideal duration does not exist. Time guides the story that, in addition to generating a satisfactory reaction, must stimulate and excite the audience, which will activate a sharing process: the first step to transform the spectator into a brand ambassador.
Although all the KPIs seen so far are more or less always relevant regardless of the categories, some KPIs are more critical. For example, in the construction of a web series, the narrative effort, always fundamental, is even more relevant: horizontal or continuity rods (the ability to stimulate the desire to see similar episodes or subsequent episodes) are decisive for the success of the content.
The use of actors, talent or influencers is another element that does not represent a discriminating factor for the success of the video. The projects that see them as protagonists have received very variable feedback on both indices. Once again, the protagonist’s story is fundamental as well as the coherence and integration between the storyline and the brand’s values.
As per one of the categories, 75% of the comedy sketches made by professional creators in constructing authorial and digital storytelling content – 60% did not perform positively in uniqueness (the brand could therefore be replaced by another without plot problems), 64% in brand fit (the history of the brand was not integrated into the main story) and 77% did not perform in discovery by not creating any familiarity uplift.
The insertion of the brand must be studied and integrated in the narrative plot. Nor would it be correct to speak of insertion because the story must be created around the brand, respecting the style of those who create it and representing it “ensuring” its performance in terms of content, but allowing the brand’s tone to emerge distinctively and consistently. It is not a compromise but a different rule or process of creation.
Although it has emerged that some categories perform better on average than others, we can say, based on the evidence, that there is no category that, more than others, guarantees the effectiveness of a digital branded entertainment: in each cluster we find projects that have registered positive performances on all KPIs, and others that are decidedly weaker.
To build effective branded entertainment, in addition to KPIs, you have to take into account feelings. There is no effective story if it does not generate strong emotions: there is a great correlation between the effectiveness of a branded entertainment and the emotional reactions generated during the video. If some have a very significant and positive effect (emotion, fun, inspiration, curiosity, etc.), the negative impact of a video that generates boredom is often an underestimated aspect: not only does it not benefit the brand, but also impacts in a catastrophic way on brand consideration.
These elements, the moods, have a very strong correlation with the factors analysed, especially with some particularly as critical as wom-ability. One of the brands’ desires is to succeed in building a viral video, which manages to generate a relevant organic distribution. But there is no safe recipe for building a viral video, apart from the extreme relevance of wom-ability, which today is the most critical KPI, the one that records the lowest performances, with only 16% of the videos analysed above the threshold. But is there an element that we can identify that certainly has an impact on wom-ability? To try to answer this question we focused on the top performers (isolating the KPI) and we verified that the first in rank are precisely those contents able to generate a peak of emotional reaction, a strong and decisive feeling. Some have generated very strong emotions, sometimes even anger, others have generated curiosity and surprise and others fun feelings. In short, no matter what the emotional register is, the important thing is not to be afraid to dare.