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Quality Branded Content Outperforms Pre-Roll Advertising

4 minute read | July 2016

Brands and marketers competing to engage content-hungry consumers need to be creative in the strategies they deploy to appeal to viewers, especially in an age of ad-blocking technology.

As a result, we’re seeing an emergence of what is known as branded content, which is a type of marketing that unites entertainment or editorial content with brand or product messaging. Examples range from online video series that educate viewers on a topic while featuring a brand to integrations within a TV show that include special story arcs to highlight specific products. The bottom line is that branded content is emerging everywhere as a new way for brands and marketers to engage with consumers.

Therefore, content creators and advertisers may find themselves scratching their heads about how to break through the clutter with compelling branded content that attracts an audience and makes them want more.

“While there’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to creating impactful branded content, we’ve identified some common themes in our research and content testing that can be used as best practices for making content resonate with audiences,” said Harry Brisson, Director of Lab Research at Nielsen.

To better understand how consumers are reacting to this new form of marketing content, Nielsen assessed consumer reactions to more than 100 pieces of branded content and found that a brand’s effectiveness (e.g., how a brand resonates with viewers) is largely affected by the format and environment the message is delivered in. The results of the analysis uncovered three key takeaways that can help brands deliver strong content that resonates with and builds audiences:

  1. Branded content can drive higher brand recall and brand lift than pre-roll
  2. When viewers enjoy content, they view the integrated brands more favorably
  3. Partnering with a publisher can drive ad impact

Branded Content Can Be a Strong Driver of Brand Recall and Brand Lift

The Nielsen analysis showed that consumers recall brands more after seeing branded content than pre-roll ads (e.g., promotional videos that run before the content the user has selected). In fact, when comparing the same brand marketed as both branded content and pre-roll ad, the branded content generated an average of 86% brand recall among viewers, compared with 65% from the pre-roll ad. Additionally, the lift in brand perceptions was higher for branded content than pre-roll across other key performance indicators (KPIs) such as affinity, purchase intent and recommendation intent.

Consumers Respond to Captivating Content

When it comes to resonance, viewers will be more receptive to brand messaging if the content is captivating, relatable and of high quality.

The analysis showed that there is a positive correlation between intent to view future episodes and positive impact on brand lift metrics. The more engaging a program is, the more likely the viewer is to come back for more and feel positively toward the brand integrated in the content.

Furthermore, content described as “for people like me” was the attribute most correlated with intent to view. So content must be engaging as well as relatable on a personal level.

It’s also important for branded content to have hosts and characters that are relatable, along with being likable and credible as experts. According to the findings, viewers who rate a video’s central personality to be “excellent” are significantly more likely to seek out additional content than viewers who rate the central personality to be “fair” or “poor” (46% vs

The factors that draw in viewers and keep them engaged are broadly consistent with best practices Nielsen has identified in its work testing television programs for networks and studios.

Publisher Partnerships Can Drive Ad Impact

Finally, publishers matter. Marketers that distributed their branded content in partnership with a publisher saw a higher brand lift – 50% higher, on average – than those who published content on their own. Partnering with publishers gives brands access to pre-existing formats, known personalities and loyal audiences where trust has already been established.

“Marketers that consider the format in which the content is delivered, the elements within the content beyond just the brand, and the surrounding environment in which the content is delivered tend to see the most success in terms of brand impact,” Brisson noted.

Although today’s audiences may be more distracted than ever, their expectations for great content remain high. Successful marketers will produce content that delivers brand impact through meaningful and entertaining experiences.

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