There are so many ways consumer brands can effectively reach audiences today. Brands have a dizzying array of choices; it’s easy to lose track of the difference between paid content, what is sponsored content vs branded content and how does it work with PR? Even the term “media outlets” is confusing because there are so many. For our purposes today, media outlets refer to traditional publications with online versions rather than social media platforms or blogs. Today’s online and print versions (where they still exist) are radically different. There is usually a lot more content on the web version, and there are no space limitations, meaning sponsored and branded content has been democratized. It used to be that only the most prominent brands could afford to buy space in magazines like Women’s Wear Daily or People Magazine, but today, buying content on those online versions is possible for much smaller consumer brands.
Sponsored content vs branded content
What is sponsored content?
Sponsored content is produced in collaboration with the brand; the brand has at least some oversight.
Sometimes sponsored content includes indexed links useful to SEO. This is perhaps one of the most compelling advantages of sponsored content. It creates an inbound link from a reputable online source, and it shows up in Google searches, which enhances reputation.
Like an ad, sponsored content may guarantee a certain number of views or placement over a guaranteed amount of time. Some influencers or publications require complete creative control, especially with product reviews. Depending on the outlet, sponsored content, because it has editorial oversight, very often lasts longer, sometimes indefinitely. Depending on the publication and the format, it will appear with “sponsored” or “ad” designations per FTC guidelines. Branded content can be an article in a publication or an influencer video.
What is branded content?
Branded content is a hybrid of editorial and paid content produced by the publication; it is native-appearing. The placement and content oversight are paid for, and in this way, it differs from earned media. Like sponsored content, branded content is far less interruption than traditional digital advertising. Sometimes branded content includes indexed and because of the editorial oversight, do-follow links useful to SEO.
How to effectively use sponsored and branded content?
The most successful sponsored content and branded does not read like an advertisement. Instead, it maximizes the space to create entertainment value or evoke an emotional response with storytelling. Creating content that viewers want to read is why paid content is more effective than banner ads. Very often, paid content isn’t even directly about the brand, and it may be a piece of content that distills critical messages to the audience without directly pushing the company; instead, it moves the consumer’s perception of a product or a lifestyle change.
Over and over, I see paid content that feels like a giant ad, and I know it’s because someone in marketing, or maybe even an overly enthusiastic CEO read the copy and said something like, “There’s no call to action!” or “We aren’t even talking about our product’s best features!” And so the entire piece reads like the brand website. This is such a sad waste of viewer attention. The intent is to create or reinforce the customer journey. Customers almost never buy on the first interaction with a brand, think about paid content as a first or second meeting.
Is paid content effective for consumer brands?
Branded content drives up to 86% more brand recall than traditional advertising. That’s a considerable uptick. So why does anyone do any other form of traditional advertising? The reason is that branded content works because it doesn’t feel like a strong call to action; rather, it feels informative or entertaining, or even like news.
How are branded content and sponsored content similar?
How to choose between brand content vs sponsored content? This might be a matter of budget. Experienced content creators like editors at sought-after publications are not cheap. Sponsored content is often less expensive, and it isn’t usually as in-depth as branded coverage, nor is it always premium quality. Some outlets do not ever place sponsored content in a front page rotation, where they might for premium branded content.
Paid content is effective because, unlike paid advertising, it doesn’t interrupt the viewer’s experience. Very often, there isn’t even a solid call to action in sponsored content. Because there isn’t a strong call-to-action, many brands run ad campaigns alongside their sponsored content to cement brand recall, improving click rates on traditional advertisements. Like an ad, paid content may not be permanently hosted or appear in search indefinitely. Paid content, when done well, engages the viewer for a longer period than an ad; as importantly, because the view engages with the content, they will be more likely to remember it.
We love paid content because, unlike a traditional ad, it’s usually stickier and can be leveraged in many of the same ways as earned media.
How does it compare to earned media?
Sponsored content feels more trusted than advertisements but not as trusted as independent coverage or reviews. But, like earned media, it provides a way for brands to reach viewers while they’re in the mindset to consume content or while they’re searching for information related to the brand.
Because it isn’t paid, earned media is more trusted, and therefore, more valuable. Also, earned media is permanent. We see search results for earned content that is several years old but still relevant. So earned media is far stickier.
How does it fit in with PR and content strategy?
From a PR and content strategy perspective, we like to use sponsored or branded content to kick off a campaign; this gives us some control over the message early on and guarantees some visibility and search indexing. We use paid content with many of our thought leadership programs, to help leaders develop their voice, their point of view, and reputation. We also use paid content for product introduction. It is not uncommon to see brands use sponsored content in other forms of promotion and advertising.
In short, we think a lot of paid content makes sense with a digitally savvy PR campaign.