Branded Content Strategies: What Can Go Wrong?

Advertising consumes our lives whether we notice it or not. They can be seen on TV, in a film or show, on a website, on social media, or even in a newspaper or magazine, and that’s not even all the places we see or hear ads. However, when it comes to branded content, it brings it to a whole new level. Branded content are seen more and more in today’s society than ever before. While advertising can be a form of freedom of speech that’s protected under the first amendment, when it comes to industries including tobacco, hate groups, political organizations, alcohol, and firearms, using branded content shouldn’t be acceptable.

Branded content can be described as

“A marketing technique that does not involve traditional advertising. Its purpose is to drive engagement through content and often exists in mediums such as videos, podcasts, articles, and even live events. Branded content does not focus on the actual product as it does the quality of the brand itself. The content usually tells a story, evokes an emotional response, is entertaining, or is making a social statement. “

Alyssa Maio

In today’s society there are more social media influencers and more people are watching more content that provokes some kind of emotion, makes a statement, or is entertaining. In response, the amount of products and companies that are using branded content as their advertising technique through these influencers or even videos is off the charts. However, many of these companies are creating content that tells a story that needs to be heard and shared during the hard times, or as a way for people to escape for a couple of minutes. This kind of content creates conversations that either need to happen or fun to have that doesn’t bring any harm or violence to anyone. All in all, when branded content is done correctly the right kind of change can happen and even bring joy to many people.

On the other hand, many people will disagree in that it’s unethical to prevent the tobacco, hate groups, political organizations, alcohol, and firearms industries to use branded content as advertising. However, what these companies promote is something that needs to be very closely monitored and its information needs to be distributed under supervision. These industries compared to other products that are advertised, cause the most harm, violence, and even deaths across the world. This can be in the form of an illness or disease (i.e. lung cancer caused by tobacco products), mass shootings, riots and protests, or even drunk driving or other abuse related incidents involving alcohol and this is barely scratching the surface.

These companies and organizations can take advantage of branded content and use it for their own gain without it being in the best interest of the consumers. In fact Ulrike Gretzel states, “…the use of branded content is widespread and growing…many PR professionals recognize that it might be misleading to consumers, and especially harmful in certain industry contexts…” Especially with hate groups and political organizations, what Ulrike is talking about can certainly happen in that those organizations and groups can create content that can ultimately incite violence and more problems in the world.

They can also create a lot of fake content, meaning the videos, images, or anything that they create will contain information that’s misleading or something that was never said in the first place but stitched together to make it seem like someone said it. In other words, it’s fake news.

“Imagine a world in which we can no longer trust or believe news reports of global conflict, social uprisings, police misconduct, or natural disasters. Imagine a world in which we can no longer believe what our world leaders say in public—or private. Imagine a world in which we simply cannot separate fact from fiction. In this world, how will we function as a democracy, economy, or society?”

Hany Farid

Just imagining a world that Hany is telling us to imagine is no longer needed to be thought about. Instead, this has already come true. Hany talks in his article, Fake news, photos, and videos will be the new reality in the future of media, about how we can now stitch together what a celebrity, leader, or someone with power has said in the past to have them say whatever a group or a person wants them to in order to send a message, or provoke some kind of emotion and response. The majority of the time that this is done is to envoke violence and hate. In fact, hate groups are all about spreading just that and more. There are so many fake news, images, videos, and other types of content that it’s hard to trust anything and anyone anymore to the point that tobacco, hate groups, political organizations, alcohol, and firearms can use this in their content because it’s what engages us more than anything else. Once that is achieved then who knows what can happen. Violence, hate, and people being brainwashed into believing what is being advertise even if it’s very wrong, is a possibility of what can happen when those industries, organizations, and groups use branded content.

Now many people will say that it’s unethical to prevent these groups, organizations, and industries from using branded content because they are protected under the first amendment when they advertise the content they create when it should be ethical by all means. Why should they be protected if they incite violence or harm in any way? Tim O’Brien states that it can be difficult to determine what exactly identifies as hate speech and how to handle speech that incites violence because of the protection under the first amendment and what exactly constitutes as violation of this amendment. Yes, they do have the right to tell a story if they want to, however, it should be controlled, supervised, and under strict guidelines, in order for the audience to not result to violence, harm, or become brainwashed. The younger generations nowadays see alcohol and tobacco products being used in a fun way making them believe that it’s okay for them to use those products no matter their age, in which the alcohol and tobacco industries can use that and other branded content to their advantage instead of telling the downsides and harmful effects of the products that can be beneficial for branded content. Why put them in harms way in the first place?

Ulrike Gretzel states that “Three-quarters of PR professionals stated that they used at least some branded content strategies for the campaigns they worked on, mostly using social media platforms and social media influencers.” With social media being right in the palm of everyone’s hands no matter what their age is, social media influencers are right there constantly selling something. Many people tend to follow the influencers to the point where they believe every word the influencers say or write and everything they do, and it’s the only truth that matters to them. This can lead people down a violent, harmful, and just above all a horrible path.

So ask yourself again, is it unethical or ethical to prevent tobacco, hate groups, political organizations, alcohol, and firearms industries from using branded content strategies? If they incite any kind of violence, hate, or harm then it should definitely be ethical to prevent them using branded content strategies. Doing this can ultimately save a lot of lives and save those that shouldn’t have been a victim or even an instigator in the first place.

Resources:

  • Farid, Hany. “Fake News, Photos, and Videos Will Be the New Reality in the Future of Media.” Just Read, 25 Sept. 2018, justread.link/1Mcn-AXhY. 
  • Gretzel, Ulrike. “What Is Branded Content and Is It Ethical?” Just Read, 10 Dec. 2018, justread.link/Xw6WV2n-z. 
  • Maio, Alyssa. “What Is Branded Content? Examples from Successful Campaigns.” StudioBinder, 13 Sept. 2019, http://www.studiobinder.com/blog/what-is-branded-content/. 
  • O’Brien, Tim. “Hate Speech and Ethics: A 3-Dimensional Issue.” Just Read, 18 Sept. 2019, justread.link/ITTpR05mO. 

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