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Branded content partnerships are nothing new,  but for the layperson… branded content is simply content that is used to promote the sponsoring brand. The marketing objective could vary as with any other type of ad, but this form of advertising is designed to be more digestible and consumed for its own sake while bringing positive associations to the advertiser.

This article lays out the Ad Age writer’s top 10 picks of branded content partnerships in 2016. The stand-out for me was the video from Thrillist and Smith + Forge Hard Cider. It’s of Kenneth Leverich, a competitive athlete, disguised as a senior citizen and visiting Muscle Beach in Venice, California. I’ve seen the video before and it’s hilarious. The make-up and the performance by Leverich is fantastic, but this would be a case where the idea itself carries the video the whole way through. As the writer notes, the theme of the video is perfectly in-line with the alcoholic brand’s “Made Strong” tagline.

Another piece that I thought was well executed was the Michael Phelps “day-in-the-life” themed content produced by Under Armour and Complex. I felt it was very clean in design and the copy and flow is easy to follow. Plus it’s Michael Phelps.

I think the one that was a bit weak was the Truth and Gawker anti-smoking content. They created a simple game where you move furniture around in a room to make space for a cat to get to the door and avoid getting hit by cigarette smoke (the idea being that cats are twice as likely to get cancer if their owner smokes cigarettes). It’s cute and clearly meant to be a fun way to communicate another reason why smoking is terrible, but the game play itself is terrible. The cat moves randomly so you have no real control. I love it when brands gamify their content as it’s great for increasing engagement, but this one misses the mark. I clearly wasn’t in the room when the decision was made, but I can see this playing out as satisfying a check mark on a list of the latest advertising trends just for the sake of it. BUT… noble campaign obviously. As a previous smoker, I went through 1.5 packs a day before I quit in 2006!

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