Whether you make a cup of tea or have a little scroll through Twitter, chances are you rarely make it through a TV ad break without finding something better to do.

Now of course, with catch-up and on-demand services, there’s no need to wait at all. 86% of people are said to always fast-forward through adverts while watching time-shifted shows.

For networks and advertisers, this is a frustrating problem, potentially resulting in a loss of ad revenue if brands decide to place their efforts elsewhere. Comedy Central is one channel that has decided to do something about it, recently creating a series of branded content to replace bog-standard ads. 

So, will it be enough to engage viewers? And could branded content become more popular in future? Here’s a bit more on the story.

Avoiding viewer disruption

One of the worst things about TV ads is that they can completely disrupt the entire viewing experience. One minute you could be watching an episode of Friends, the next a commercial for toilet cleaner. 

With its branded content, Comedy Central is aiming to diminish this type of disruption by creating ads that feel more in tune with the network’s signature humour and style.

The content is still advertising, of course, with each episode beiing sponsored by a different company. However, having been created by Comedy Central in-house, each one serves as a standalone story that feels very much like one of the network’s regular shows.

Engaging and entertaining viewers

Comedy Central’s first series is called Handy, which depicts the ups and downs of life as a hand model. The opening episode is sponsored by US restaurant chain, Joe’s Crab Shack, hence its humorous name – ‘Erik Gets Crabs’. Another is sponsored by jewellery retailer, Zales.

Once the episodes have been aired on TV, Comedy Central is also pushing them on social channels, hoping to capitalise on the large number of people who interact with the network online.

For viewers, the brand ads are likely to make a refreshing change. While there is still some level of disruption to the viewing experience, the fact that they serve as mini stories in their own right will increase the chances of the viewer's attention being held for longer. Similar to how online native advertising blends in with the context of the user experience, the ads also feel less over-bearing than standard commercials.

What’s more, the content feels more genuine than regular advertising, mainly because it is of a much higher quality than the commercials usually seen on television. It also offers a story for viewers to invest in rather than a short and shallow ad.

Will branded content become the norm?

Comedy Central is not the only network to experiment with a new type of advertising. Last year, NBC announced that Saturday Night Live would have 30% fewer ads, replacing commercials with sponsored skits inserted directly into the show.

This approach reduces viewer disruption even further, with advertising seamlessly blending into the main content. With its decision to include sponsored skits, SNL is clearly hoping that more viewers will want to watch the show live – using the pay-off of more entertainment and less ads. 

Of course, just because it feels seamless doesn’t mean that viewers are going to respond positively. There is always the danger, again like with native advertising, that people will wrongly believe that the content is genuine when it is in fact advertising. This can result in consumers feeling like they have been duped, and in turn reacting negatively against the brand or publisher.

Whether or not viewers respond positively to this type of branded content is still unclear, however, with Comedy Central showing that advertising doesn’t always have to follow the standard rules – we’re likely to see more of it in future. 

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Nikki Gilliland

Published 7 April, 2017 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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