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Is branded content a better choice over traditional advertising? What is future of branded content? A star-studded panel of marketers and publishers discussed all this and much more as part of BuzzInContent Conversations during the session, ‘Is the brands' gain = publishers’/creators' pain?’

Speaking on the need for brands to place more trust on publishers, Suma Nair, Head of Marketing for Network18, English Business News Cluster, said that brands have to give a little leeway to the publishers and stressed on three factors — risk, reputation and control.

“When a brand is approaching a publisher, the assumption is that they understand the audience better and they also know how to create content. The distinct advantage with a publisher is that they know how to create content that is subtle, not in your face and also does well for the publisher and the brand. You should give a little leeway to the publisher. You have taken the call to partner with somebody and so you need to have enough trust in the publisher,” she said.

“Three things play on the brand's mind. The reputation — you are putting your entire trust in the publisher. Risk — as you are putting everything into their hands, even while you co create, you give the editorial leeway to the publishers. Control — you don't really have any till you see it on air,” she said.

Moderated by Roudra Bhattacharya, Head, HT Brand Studio, the panel also comprised MVS Murthy, Head of Marketing and Digital Communications, Tata Mutual Fund, Chhavi Mittal, Co-Founder, Shitty Ideas Trending, Celebrity Influencer and TV actor, and Gaurav Mehta, Chief Marketing Officer, Girnarsoft.

Speaking from the publisher’s point of view, Mittal agreed with Nair, saying brands should tell them the message and leave the rest on them.

“When you collaborate with a brand, it is like a husband-wife relationship. So it has to be a give and take. In my opinion, it works the best when the brand tells you what it wants to communicate but lets you decide the language that you choose to convey in. Because you understand how to communicate with your audience the best. When the brand and the creator are directly in contact with each other, then there's absolute clarity and you know what will be the final product. So the risk becomes lesser,” she said.

On the subject, who can create content better, brands or publishers, Murthy said, “Publishers will have higher production quality or delivery mechanisms because the brand doesn't own the medium yet. It can at best create the content and which is where the publishers working with the brand will really add to the entire output.”

Sharing his perspective on how brands decide when branded content is the right choice versus other forms of advertising, Mehta, who is both a marketer and a publisher, presented the views of both the industry and the consumers. Using the example of Volvo trucks’ content initiative, he explained the industry view.

“For the low-involvement category, branded content does really well. Though very few people use trucks, it helped them differentiate themselves from the others in the same sector. So it should definitely be a part of the marketing mix at all times,” he said.

From the consumer’s perspective, he gave the example of how his brand CarDekho used it to their advantage during the pandemic. “April was the worst month for us with zero sales. We started doing a lot of branded content for used cars and the insurance business. We had no media spend and it had to be pulled on the power of content itself and it did well. It increased our awareness matrix. When the market opened, it helped our sales. People were in no mood to buy cars in April but we wanted to be in their mindspace when they wanted to do that,” he said.

Quoting from a recent survey, Bhattacharya said 95% brands are looking for branded content and yet only 15% feel that the chosen goal is met. He asked the panellists why fewer brands are convinced of their results even when more want to take the branded content route.

Murthy explained this with an analogy of the ‘Traveller’s dilemma’, where people want a vacation but aren’t really sure if they can afford it or have other questions in mind.

“Likewise, in branded content, since it is a long-term and a highly visible format, the questions of failure weigh far more higher. Branded content comes way up in the evolution of a brand’s journey. A promising young brand will need to bring in more gravitas to be able to afford a platform where it is taking custodianship of communication that is being overlaid on the back of branded content,” he said.