Branded Content, Equity Content And Why Brands Need To Know The Difference

For advertisers and those in the entertainment industry there’s a pretty important event going over in Cannes — yes the same Cannes where the iconic film festival is held. Cannes Lions international Festival of Creativity, is an eight-day program “of creative inspiration, celebration, education and networking” for branded communications professionals.

This year, however, this was a significant mix-up in the categories. The Branded Content & Entertainment category was swallowed by the Entertainment Lions category.

Mark Eaves is cofounder of Gravity Road, as well as a former judge in the Branded Content & Content Category, writes that this was “a welcome move, and a step that makes everybody up their game.” But, why? Isn’t branded content all the rage right now?

For the last two years, 2014 and 2015, no Grand Prix was awarded in the category.

Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, adds that despite having 1,394 total entries in the “branded content and entertainment” category, the judge cited “no single piece of category-defining work,” so no award was handed-out.

Pulizzi believes it was because of the following reasons;

• Most of the entries are campaign-based. They are not ongoing editorial products serving an audience.

• There is heavy usage of product placement. It’s amazing how often the product becomes the central character of the story.

Despite all of this talk about content marketing, branded content, and equity content, it’s clear that a lot of brands don’t have a clear understanding of the differences between them. And, that’s a problem when launching a campaign.

John Deere gets it. They were pioneers in content marketing when they began publishing The Furrow back in 1895. The magazine doesn’t feel like advertising since the company isn’t pushing its equipment. It’s providing advice to farmers so that they can become more successful.

Another brand that gets it is Gatorade.

(AP Photo/Fred Vuich)

Kenny Mitchell, Senior Director of Consumer Engagement at Gatorade, says that Gatorade’s “storytelling and content falls into two clearly defined strategic categories, Product and Equity.”

He explains that “‘Product’ work is intended to deliver short terms sales lifts aligned with our retail focus periods by highlighting product-centric messaging, such as the efficacy of our product or specific functional benefits through the eyes of the competitive athlete. Our ‘Equity’ content is intended to inspire and drive brand love as evidenced in recent programs such as #DearPeyton and Serena: Unmatched.”

Branded content and equity content can still get easily confused with each other. And when that happens your strategy won’t always align with your goals and you’ll ultimately fail in connecting with your audience.

That’s why brands should know the difference between each approach.

What exactly is branded content?

There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to branded content. In fact, as Copyranter’s Mark Duffy writes in Digiday, everybody’s definition of branded content is wrong and branded content is just advertising.

While no one is going to argue that branded content is in fact just advertising, there’s a little more to it than that. It’s intended as way for brands to connect with customers by giving them an experience — as opposed to just shouting “buy me now!”

For example, Gatorade made its first foray into virtual reality with a first-of-its-kind baseball experience in 2015. The VR experience allowed users to step in the shoes of Washington Nationals all-star outfielder Bryce Harper as he stepped into the batter’s box at Nationals Park. The ad used a combination of of live action, computer generated imagery and binaural audio that created a truly unique first-person, 360-degree experience of an MLB at bat.

“What we wanted to do is place you inside of his body and give viewers a sense of presence,” explained the video’s director, Rama Allen. And, that type of branded content fits in perfectly with the brand’s target customer; the competitive athlete.

“We observe and are in constant communications with them to better understand not only their nutrition and training habits, but also the role that their passions and interests play in their lives, says Mitchell. He added, “We leverage these learnings to inform when, where and how we engage, whether through storytelling, education or in-person experiences.”

Additionally, Gatorade has been producing innovative and branded content for the last year-and-a-half with the second installment of the Gatorade Win From Within Series. This campaign was intended to serve as a great example of how Gatorade continues to partner with world-class producers and directors in order to generate original content that contains athletes who have achieved greatness against all odds and strive to improve their performance.

Another example is the “Your Game Is Our Lab” campaign which contained prototypes of products from Gatorade’s future innovation pipeline. This was to demonstrate how the brand continues to evolve their sports fuel suite of products through science-based innovation.

What is equity content?

Equity content is slightly different. This is content that is based around brand equity. As notes, brand equity is “the public’s valuation of a brand.” It “is associated with wide recognition, customer loyalty, and the market share enjoyed by the branded product or service.” For example, when conducting an online search inquiry, you often say I’m going to “Google that.” When you ask for a Coke, the person knows that you want a cola — even if it’s not actually Coca-Cola.

Brands develop equity content in order to spread brand awareness that is based on its recognition.

For Gatorade, that means authentically highlighting important moments in sports, such as #DearPeyton and Serena: Unmatched. Both videos highlight the careers of Peyton Manning and Serena Williams. It made sense for Gatorade to create these tributes since exceptional athletes are associated with the brand. Gatorade didn’t need to push any products. It could spread brand awareness by honoring these athletes.

Since the brand is also associated with the “Gatorade Dunk” following a monumental sports victory. That’s brand equity. But, how can Gatorade create content around its brand equity.

One way was to team-up with Snapchat during Super Bowl 50 for “The Snapchat Gatorade Dunk.”

Mitchell says, “The Gatorade Dunk is one of the most iconic celebrations in sports, and we felt that Super Bowl 50 would give us a great opportunity to disrupt while also staying true to our brand. Partnering with Snapchat to bring this opportunity to life through their sponsored lens is a great example of utilizing recognizable and unexpected assets to deliver a one-of-a-kind user experience, which exceeded all of our expectations.”

The result?

More than 165 million views. Snapchatters also spent an average of 30 seconds playing with the lens before sharing it with their friends.

Additional results included:

• 30.2% lift in ad awareness

• 8.3% lift in purchase intent

• 88% of consumers who engaged, liked or loved the lens

This partnership was a great way for Gatorade to expand its equity into a new audience by giving them the excitement of experiencing the classic ‘Gatorade Dunk.’

Why brands need to the know the difference.

James Shani, CEO of SAV Studios and who has worked with Gatorade, says that “We are more connected than ever — always on, always consuming — and that’s led to an insatiable appetite for stories that move us. ” However, “brands don’t take enough risk, and they don’t make enough content.”

“You can’t keep up with social/digital creatively or efficiently with a ‘broadcast’ mindset, where you’re overly precious about every piece of content you publish,” Shani continues.

But, Shani warns that says that it’s a mistake for brands to repurpose content for various platforms. “”Facebook is different from YouTube, Snapchat different from Instagram. You have to concept and produce native to each platform.”

And that’s why brands need to know the difference between branded content and equity content. For example, the “Gatorade Dunk” worked perfectly on Snapchat because it allowed fans to experience the fun of getting dunked with a superior product — that’s why isn’t a Vitamin Water splash. However, it probably wouldn’t have worked on Facebook since they couldn’t get the same interactive experience.

When producing content for your brand, always keep in mind your audience, where they are in the sales funnel, and what your goals are. If you want to lure in new customers, equity content could be used to achieve that since you’re demonstrating why your brand is so awesome.

Branded content, however, could be used to retain your target audience by reminding how incredible your product was in the first and how it can enhance their lives.

This post originally appeared on Forbes.