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Branded content: how to do it

Some of the ways you can get a branded project on screen, plus the legalities and some advice for the journey.

Key points

  • There are a number of ways to get a branded content project to screen, but an early conversation with the broadcasters will ensure the idea is more likely to be aligned to the channel requirements from the start.
  • AFPs don’t necessarily have to originate with a new idea. Sometimes they come into being once a programme is already underway. 
  • Editorial independence must be maintained and the commercial relationship must be transparent.
  • To get the most out of branded content, clients should work to deliver value off-air via their own marketing or commercial activity.

Four ways to get on screen

There is more than one way to get an AFP to air, or indeed into the quality environment of a branded broadcaster on-demand service. Here are a few routes:

  • Route 1: clients supply a brief setting out the core values of its brand and the nature of the programme it is looking to fund, then works with a commissioning editor or sales house representative to attract the right production partner. Most broadcasters prefer this route, as the idea is more likely to be aligned to the channel requirements from the start.
  • Route 2: the programme concept is put to a production company and the format is worked up with the client prior to being presented to a broadcaster. This is a good option for an advertiser who has identified an ideal production partner and wants multiple programme ideas.
  • Route3: a broadcaster is looking for a particular programme or genre to fit its programming schedule. This programme will need funding. They put a brand programming brief out to tender with producers. This is good for all parties, because it starts with a scheduling requirement, which comes with an increased chance of a commission.
  • Route 4: programmes are delivered "ready made" to the broadcaster, who has to find an appropriate slot for it in its schedule. This arrangement is suitable for brand owners who already own entertainment properties and wish to barter them against commercial airtime.

Shows can be fully or partly paid for by the advertiser. In some cases co-productions rather than complete funds can encourage buy-in at the broadcaster level as it maintains their vested interest.

Broadcasters work differently

Clients and agencies must understand the different commissioning and commercial practices of each broadcaster in order to achieve the best results. The best way to approach this is to first get the programme idea and then discuss business terms.

For broadcasters, each branded content proposition will be assessed as to whether it will strengthen the relationship with the client. This relationship includes spots, sponsorship, web TV, online and AFP.

Branded content end the awkward job interview

However, it’s not always about starting afresh, and successful AFPs don’t necessarily have to originate with a new idea. Sometimes they come into being once a programme is already underway and the broadcaster is looking for a partner to fill a funding gap at the same time as a brand is looking for a partnership opportunity. This route has the advantage that the commissioner is already behind the project and the programme is well on the way to being made.

The legal bit: ensuring editorial independence 

In reference to Advertiser Funded Programming, people often talk of a degree of "ownership". But what does this mean, and to what extent can a funder be involved in the TV programme?

On air, AFPs are subject to the same Ofcom broadcasting code rules as conventional sponsored programmes. Crucially, the funder must not influence programming content or scheduling in such a way as to affect the editorial independence or responsibility of the broadcaster and the commercial relationship must be transparent.

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However, during the initiation phase, before deciding to invest their collective time and money in the programme idea, the broadcaster, producer and advertiser will have discussed and agreed the following:

  • Programme format & script outline 
  • Cast outline including presenter 
  • Sponsorship credits

As to "ownership", the extent to which any additional approvals are awarded may depend on the extent to which the advertiser is funding the project: e.g. fully funding or a co-production and sharing rights with broadcaster or producer. These may include:

  • Platforms and territories for distribution; i.e. mobile, online and geographic region 
  • Any third party licensing rights; e.g. logos, use of copyright by others 
  • Marketing and PR activity in support of the programme/ content

An advertiser can have more influence on the co-creation and deployment of off-air and multi-platform brand content assets.

This framework helps to define the stakeholder roles and protect the editorial independence and integrity of the production. In so doing, it creates a powerful platform for brand content marketing - programmes that viewers will want to watch, from people who know how to make them.

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