Branded content has come a long way since detergent manufacturers sponsored afternoon dramas on American television thereby creating that commonplace television term - the soap opera. From clumsy endorsements or product placements to brands being written into the script or even taking a bigger staring role, branded content has arrived.
The Good Doctor, one of the prize winners on the reality show, “Touching Lives” Ghana
A good case in point is the debonair swagger with which Daniel Craig pointed out to the gorgeous Vesper that he was in fact not wearing a Rolex but an Omega. In "Casino Royale" with the watch on his wrist Vesper Lynd asked James bond: "Beautiful watch. Rolex?" to which 007 replied: "No, Omega."
It's a short statement, but a big enough one. Brands like Apple, Nike, Puma, iPod and BlackBerry are at the forefront of driving a new era in branded entertainment.
And, Africa is not being left behind. Reality television is huge on the continent and is proving a perfect platform for branded content, except that in Africa the brands don't play bit parts. In many events they play a staring role, and with huge success.
The Launch Factory Experiential completed a 13-part 26-minute reality series for African mobile giant Zain in Ghana that was extremely well received and although the content was not overtly commercial, the programming was successful because it spoke to the human condition, the hero archetype and the common need for ordinary people to be able to make a difference.
Called "Touching Lives" the Zain branded content was a show that was aired on television and sought to transform the lives of ordinary citizens living in Ghana. Aired on TV Africa and Metro in Ghana the 13-episode series explores a range of issues including poverty, health, education and selfless service. Each story ended by celebrating Ghanaian heroes who are changing communities and lives.
Here are some the lessons learned by The Launch Factory while creating the branded entertainment series, together with some factors we believe contributed to the runaway success of the show.
Community driven: The central concept for Zain's "Touching Lives" was community involvement. Ordinary people in Ghana were given the opportunity to single out and financially reward remarkable citizens that were making a difference to other people's lives. This created a big drive in communities to discover local heroes that were caring for others and uplifting lives. The call to entry literally yielded thousands upon thousands of stories of people who were making a difference to local communities.
Storied content: From the absolute thousands of entries, The Launch Factory could sift through content to see which contributions were most worthy in terms of social appeal, brand fit and television content. What was significant about the 13 episodes or stories that we filmed were that they were all self contained stories that were very emotional and placed both the brand and the local hero as the stars of a heart warming story with a feel-good ending.
Brand values: Each of the stories that were told in some way rewarded Ghanaians who reflected Zain's brand values which included Radiance (bringing joy, colour and richness to life); Heart (living with courage and resolve); and Belonging (bringing fellowship and community to all). Because the brand values were illustrated in human dramas with a happy ending and through Zain celebrating and rewarding local heroes, the branded content had huge local relevance.
Compelling human content: People are inspired, motivated and deeply touched by stories of other human beings who triumph against all odds. These were the stories that we told in Zain's "Touching Lives" - the remarkable local narratives of people who refused to give up. One such story is that of Dr. David Abdullai, a Tamale-based medical doctor who cares for people who are abandoned by society. The only survivor of eleven children born to a leper and beggar and one time a street boy, "The Good Doctor" as he is affectionately called, battled against all odds to make it through medical training and to qualify as a medical doctor. His life is now dedicated to serving the community with free medical facility that is solely dedicated to serving society's outcasts, many of whom have physical deformities.
Socially uplifting content: Lastly what made the difference to Zain's branded content was that it was not just branded entertainment, but that the mobile company made significant financial investments to improve the lot of those featured in the series. By rewarding those local heroes Zain in turn rewarded the communities they served. Not just branded content, the series made a positive and sustainable contribution to local development and social upliftment.