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Branded content: The next big thing

Branded content: The next big thing

Branded content could represent an incredible opportunity for brands in the Middle East. But it has to be thought through, says Mark St Andrew, Head Reporter with Cream.

September 13, 2010 5:09 by

The wealth of platforms through which content can be distributed has fuelled the rise of the branded content phenomenon. The opportunity for brands to immerse potential consumers in the core values of a brand.

In one of the best examples of branded content partnerships in the Middle East region, CNBC has recently announced a new content deal with Gulf Air, the Bahrain-based international airline.

“Who’s Who in the Middle East” is an interview series set to air on CNBC across Europe, the Middle East and Africa until February 2011. Leading business figures from across the region such as Joseph Ghossaub, chairman and CEO of Menacom, Khaled Hassan Rashed, CEO of Corecap and Mohammed Al Habtoor, CEO of the Al-Habtoor Group are taking part in the project.

Episodes are bookended with Gulf Air branding and the show airs during peak periods throughout the day. The content is complimented by the more traditional Gulf Air TV spots, in which employees reveal their passion for delivering customer care.

The association of senior Middle East business figures with the airline helps to raise the profile of the individuals taking part, while the airline positions itself as the carrier of choice for the Middle East business community.

Branded content is a difficult medium to get right. Hollywood actor James Stewart once said, “Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners”. He didn’t work in marketing, but his statement neatly encapsulates the basic principle of good branded content. David Ogilvy, who did work in marketing, took the opposite view, “I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form,” he once proclaimed, “but as a medium of information.”

Historically, Ogilvy has a point. Branded content in its current form is a relatively new phenomenon. Branded content as Ogilvy would have understood the term traced its roots back to the hackneyed “soap opera” serials produced by P&G or Colgate-Palmolive that filled the radio and television schedules in the early to mid-20th century. As far back as the 30s, housewives of Chicago could listen to the weekly washing powder-related exploits of “Clara, Lu and Em” courtesy of Super Suds detergent. No wonder David Ogilvy wasn’t a fan.

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