The conundrum of branded content and consumer experience

Digital platforms are full of sponsored, advertiser-funded and even purely subscription-based content. Brands want to be a part of all kinds of content. But does too much of branded content work with viewers or does it distract them? analyses

Akanksha Nagar
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Most shows on the web, especially on AVOD platforms, have brands as partners for in-show integration. As the trend rises, most platforms and brands feel brand integration should be done in such a way that it does not ruin the consumption experience of viewers.

Sameer Saxena

Sameer Saxena, CCO and Head TVF Originals, said branded content hampers a consumer’s content consumption experience and so it is high time for brands to learn to do brand integration intelligently.

At a recent event, Uday Shankar, President of Walt Disney Company Asia Pacific and Chairman of Star and Disney India, also said that product placement or brand integration can impact the customer’s viewing experience.

Sandeep Balan

Sandeep Balan, Partner, Branded Content at Spring Marketing Capital, said that brands first need to understand the difference between product placement and brand integration, before even attempting to do so.

However, it isn't that Indians are wary of ads on digital. According to a recent study, Indian viewers wouldn't mind seeing ads on Netflix if the subscription came cheaper.

Abhik Sanyal

Abhik Sanyal, Head, Consumer Marketing, DSP Investment Managers, said it is probably not right to say that audiences are not used to interruptions (ads). The communication model has always been interruption-oriented whether it is via print, TV or now with digital as the concept of advertisers-funded programming still exists.

But viewers feel there should not be any interruption in between as they pay a lot for the subscription.

Anupam Bokey

Anupam Bokey, CMO, RPSG-FMCG, said, “When it comes to SVOD, the audience is paying a lot of money to watch content for subscription and they obviously expect a seamless, non-interrupted viewing experience. That is where it becomes equally important for the brands to integrate themselves so that doesn’t disrupt the viewing experience. Brands need to be very skilful of the integration."

India is among the largest digital video streaming markets in the world with 40 platforms churning out over a hundred of shows a year.

"Out of the top 10 web series in the country today, majority have been created with brands in place. Brands are aware that audiences have grown up with interruptions but with digital, they don’t want to get disrupted. Thus, brands are trying to be very subtle," added Sanyal.

Experts say that viewers don't like any forced product placement and could instead be served a very subtle integration. Netflix and Prime have tried this in a couple of their shows.

Balan said, “There is a thin line between these two. In the name of branded content, brands try to do a product placement which looks jarring because it's not supposed to be there in the first place. It's kind of force-fitted and it doesn't make any sense. It is just there for the display, a way of being present. So that's typically all product placements. Brand integration is where you can not differentiate the brand, which is being inserted, from the content that is running. It almost becomes the character,” he said.

"Just because brands are sponsoring certain shows, or are behind the show, it doesn’t have to be forced into the content. Let it happen naturally and organically and let it be more about the content rather than the brand,” Balan added.

Bokey said brands not just have to seamlessly integrate but also choose a content piece that resonates with the brand and the integration should reflect its true values.

He added, “Brands also have to choose OTT platforms for the integration. The audiences should feel that a particular brand has the right to be there in the content. It should look like a part of the show itself. It is very important that in a branded integration, a brand gets registered. Stay true to the brand and also don’t push it too hard.”

Sanyal said the brand should resonate with the content and only then it will pass the muster. “Majority of the branded content shows are slices of life and relatable content which get a lot more audience as it's not fiction, relatable, which is where the self-expression comes. Such content pieces are very much relatable to them and thus they share it, because otherwise they might not be able to express it. And once the brand is integrated in that, it travels along,” he concluded.

The conundrum of branded content consumer experience