Branded content takes a bow at the Clios

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Compared to just three years ago, there is a sense of excitement and anticipation about the trajectory of the category, says Geometry Global's CCO.

Last night at the Clio Awards, I was honored to hand the Grand Clio trophy in branded entertainment to the team behind the unscripted film "Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World" by Pereira & O'Dell on behalf of Netscout.

Judging the branded content and entertainment category in China earlier this year, I was struck by how far the category had come since I judged it in Cannes in 2014. That moment was a catalyst for me to reflect and ask some questions of the industry.

How had the category matured and developed? Would we really find ourselves in the promised land of creating content that could genuinely compete against "real entertainment" for people’s hard won attention?

This is not to say that the category was lacking in excitement and innovation in 2014. In fact, it was quite the opposite, I remember feeling so privileged to be looking at work that was at the very frontier of our industry. 

But there is a "Wow!" when you line 2014 up to 2017, a sense of excitement and anticipation about the trajectory of the category. What are the trends that initiate and embolden such feelings? 

For me, there are three macro trends. They are by no means comprehensive, just the ones that give me hope and anticipation about where the industry will be in another three years.

First, is the rise of scripted entertainment. In 2017, there are multiple award-winning pieces of exceptional work that demonstrate the vital components of true storytelling: great performances, wonderfully crafted scripts, compelling ideas. In 2014, the cupboard was bare. 

At the other end of the axis is the second trend that is coming into focus: the clear transformation of documentary.

In 2014, it felt like any work in this category was merely an extension of a case study film. Or, more specifically, it was work that was created as a by-product of something else.

We are now seeing content whose only purpose is the film itself, the best examples of this being films like "Lo and Behold." Like scripted, this is work that now transcends the brand and creates an interest in subjects way beyond the actual product itself. This is so liberating, opening more opportunities for brands to create compelling content that has a real value to the person that views it. 

The last trend is the re-emergence of art as branded content.

We are now in a new era of art as branded entertainment—an era in which brands are now creating art. "Real art" for art’s sake, not advertising that could be called art, of which there is a great deal. 

What we saw in 2017 was that branded content in the form of art could capture the world, one small, fearless girl at a time. 

So what else is coming in the future? Here’s what I predict. 

The first and most obvious is scripted comedy. We all need a laugh, and it’s clear that there is a both a need and opportunity for brands to embrace scripted comedy.

You can feel this hunger for comedy in the jury room. We’ve all gotten so serious, and the pendulum needs to swing. There is almost nothing harder than scripted comedy, which I guess is why it hasn’t had the investment from brands.

The second trend I think we will see more of in the future is products with entertainment integrated into them, e.g. The Magic Wallpaper from TBWA Paris—a wallpaper for kids featuring characters that can become part of a digital storytelling journey.

As we become more comfortable with new mediums of entertainment, the opportunities to use technology to enable products to be the center of a broader narrative will become a compelling point of difference. 

Lastly, the podcast. Clearly the success of projects like "Serial" and "Homecoming" has created a new audience for immersive audio content. Expect to see more as brands understand the potential of this medium.

What’s clearly visible in the category today is the realization that there is no defining line in people’s minds between branded and non-branded content. We all know that time and attention are limited. We need to accept that the competition for the branded content industry is Netflix and Amazon, "Ozark," "Game of Thrones" and Xbox, not other brands. 

Looking at the progress we’ve made in the last three years, I think we are up for it. It will demand new skill sets, a new approach, but we keep setting the bar higher, and there is no way back.

Jon Hamm is Chief Creative Officer at Geometry Global.