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Dubai Lynx 2015: Young Gun underlines difference between ‘branded content’ and branding

Sara Abu Zahra

Brands can do more than slap logos on screens, contends AMS Choueiri Group’s Sara Abu Zahra – armed with insights, ideas and stories that connect.

Speaking at the IAA UAE Chapter’s Young Guns session at Dubai Lynx, the topic I covered was ‘The “Stories” of the Life of Someone Who Works in Branded Content’. It allowed me to touch upon some of the things I’ve learned during my time in this field, as well as some of the things I’ve noticed we’ve been doing (wrongly) under the banner of branded content.

The very first instances of branded content can be traced back to the 1920s and the peak of radio, when people used to tune in and listen to their favourite radio shows, which were often in form of serialised stories. Brands noticed there was a big opportunity there and wanted to be a part of it. So they did. They naturally integrated themselves in momentary ads during the show, focusing more on telling stories within the context of the show rather than the facts about the product. They did a good job at this keeping it within context as they knew people loved stories.

But ever since then, we’ve drifted and brands have been getting things a bit wrong in the world of content and here’s why.

One of the main reasons is that we’re often confusing ‘branded content’ for branding. Instead of focusing on the story itself, we waste far too much time and effort on slapping brand logos in as many single shots as possible and for as many seconds as possible – and calling that branded content. And to top off all this logo-slapping, we’re using scorecards and measurement tools to measure this exposure and calling it a success based on the time of exposure the brand logo gets.

The result is that we are actually insulting the viewers, and they’re switching off. Our viewers are much smarter than we think they are, and they want good stories!

Good stories are everything; they are what create the emotional glue between people and brands; they create impact, and they’re ultimately what shape our inner thoughts. And if your stories are successful in eliciting an emotional connection, then these are the stories that people want to share.

The second reason we’ve drifted is that we’ve become “Me Too” cookie cutter wannabes! The moment we see a success story all we want to do is jump on board and do the exact same thing, even if it doesn’t really work for our brand!

I think, as a region, we are very capable of creating great stories and great content, and to do this, all we really need to do is go back to the basics. We need to return to that thing we used to use back in the day called ‘insight’ and apply it. Insight is one of the most important things to creating the right content for a brand.

Finally, the third main reason we’ve lost the plot is that we sometimes expect branded content to be produced and delivered quicker than fast food delivery. In a world where everything moves fast and with the introduction of agile systems, we want everything done yesterday. But the reality is that even agile systems take a lot of time. So much time and work go into building the actual foundations of a brand’s agile strategy and guidebook on how it would be executed when the time arises.

Great content and stories can be created for literally any brand with time, even for brands so simple you wouldn’t even think you could create good content for, like duct tape!

The beauty of branded content is that it’s all about new ideas. If we all just want to focus on slapping our logos on screens we will never progress. If we really want to start standing out with our stories and as a region, let’s get back to telling some amazing stories. Let’s put our ear back on the ground and really come up with some truthful insight…and let’s take the time that we need to really build some amazing work that we all believe in and are very proud of.

(The author Sara Abu Zahra was one of three young professionals chosen by the IAA UAE chapter to present at the Dubai Lynx International Festival of Creativity 2015. This article was written on the subject of her presentation, on the invitation of Campaign Middle East. Zahra is branded content director at AMS Choueiri Group. Views expressed are personal.)