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Storytelling Still Matters

When it comes to content marketing and branded entertainment, data seems to be the buzzword these days. And while data can provide amazing insights and help with audience targeting and other marketing decisions, it’s important not to lose sight of what it is that makes a piece of content great, rather than simply good: storytelling.

While everyone is focused on data, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it’s the power of simple storytelling that allows brands to make an emotional connection with consumers, one that truly resonates and reverberates.

In today’s #CreatedWith economy, storytelling starts and ends with the creators. Hollywood is still the place where a preponderance of the world’s best writing and directing talent resides, and I would argue that there is a tremendous opportunity to be mined from working with that talent.

It’s still a relatively new relationship—Hollywood and brands—and as such, I’ve put together a list of best practices for brands who are truly committed to working with Hollywood’s best-in-class writers and producers. Follow these rules, and your collaborations can flourish, not flounder.

Put entertainment first.  This is the alpha and the omega. Violate this rule and you’ve lost. Because for content to truly resonate, you need it to be entertaining—in your audience’s eyes, not yours.  In today’s hyper fragmented, short-attention-span world, the more self-serving you are, the quicker audiences will tune you out.  When you provide value, by entertaining and/or educating, audiences will invite your content in, and share it.

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Be organic and authentic.  Be judicious about showing the brand image or product visual. This is not an ad and it shouldn’t feel like one.  Present your brand organically, and in an unforced manner, and consumers will accept, even welcome its presence.  As a marketer, this may feel counterintuitive, but some of the best examples of Branded Entertainment are those where the product or brand is shown the least, with the story and its protagonist taking center stage. The brand can be built into and around the experience without drawing unnecessary attention to itself and hurting the story.  This is one place where the old mantra “less is more” really rings true.

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 Lead with brand attributes.  Bring the brand into the piece via its personality. Is the brand heroic, humorous, adventurous? Express the brand via those attributes instead of the tired brand visual.  In the hands of a good writer or director, you will get far more out of your investment if you allow them to apply their skills to telling a good story, vs. forcing it. And audiences will realize that you are referencing the brand and reward you for respecting their intelligence.

Move the story forward.  Ensure the brand integration or expression enhances/moves the story forward.  In other words, make sure your story has a reason for being.  We’ve all been in a movie or watched a TV show where a brand’s integration or placement looks gratuitous or takes the viewer out of the emotional truth of the scene.  But hit on an emotional truth and you’ve connected with your audience in a way that more traditional commercials can’t achieve.

 Make an emotional connection with the audience.  When branded content is done well, the viewer connects your brand with a moving experience, whether that experience has moved them to laughter, to tears, or just to think about the world in a brand new light. Regardless, you’ve created a deeper connection that leaves a positive impression, and perhaps even a new brand evangelist..


Be grounded in strategy.  With all the talk about the creative expression of the brand, it’s important to be clear about what you are trying to achieve with each piece of content (and with the creators who are creating it) in order to ensure you get the maximum return on investment. Set out goals you know you can measure. And remember that ROI comes mostly in the form of marketing impact, not monetary gain (the latter a conversation for another post).

Adhere to these six rules and you can feel good about the branded content you’re creating and the impact it is going to have on your brand and your audience. Next time, we’ll take a look at rules for working with creators, the Hollywood writers, producers and directors who’ll actually be making your content.


  1. […] #CreatedWith variety, are another story. Users will engage with those because (if you remember the rules laid out here by Andy Marks last week) they are first and foremost entertainment. Not sales […]

  2. […] the previous piece, we looked at the importance of storytelling and some best practices for creating your content. […]

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