The strategic value of authentic narrative in branded entertainment

Van Loggerenberg, Marthinus Johannes Coetzee (2017-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2017.


ENGLISH SUMMARY : This study explored the strategic value of authentic narrative in branded entertainment. Authentic narrative gives form to narrative that is original, communicates the brand’s identity and purpose, and aligns with the target audience’s value system in a meaningful way, with the potential to achieve customer-brand resonance – therefore, its strategic value. The discipline of branded entertainment is imbedded in alternative brand contact planning. The term branded entertainment seemingly holds varied meanings among industry professionals and academics. This is of concern as the discipline is growing in importance as a means to disrupt conventional brand communication practice and to break through commercial clutter. One can compare this problem to an industry that for argument’s sake does not understand or agree on the fundamental principles of advertising or public relations, resulting in ineffective communication efforts. In many instances, branded entertainment is employed with an overt sales orientation as opposed to a brand orientation that engages an authentic brand identity-based narrative. The brand communication effort thus comes across as insincere, in particular where Millennials are concerned. This generation responds to brand communication that they can make a genuine emotional connection with and they expect of brands to provide entertaining content in their brand communication campaigns. They furthermore engage with brands on their own terms, something that branded entertainment enables and encourages. The lack of a cohesive understanding and application of branded entertainment erodes its core value, that is to break through clutter and connect with audiences through authentic narrative and thus, the potential for branded entertainment to achieve resonance is depleted. Using a qualitative interpretivist approach with a judgement sampling design, this exploratory study was conducted to engage the perceptions of globally recognised brand communication decision makers, i.e. advertising agency-side strategists and creatives, and client-side marketers on the strategic value of authentic narrative in branded entertainment. Interviews were conducted across six continents with these planners and creators, all who have received the highest international recognition of excellence in the form of multiple Grand Prix and Gold wins at the world’s most respected advertising award shows, for branded entertainment campaigns that they were directly responsible for. Depth of thought and opinion was gained through the exploration of the potential of authentic narrative to achieve brand resonance. The qualitative exploratory research that was conducted delivers a proposed definition: Branded entertainment is a communication effort that employs a compelling authentic narrative to achieve brand resonance, being the primary contribution of the study. This definition is of significance as it provides a common understanding of the branded entertainment construct towards brand resonance and guides the application thereof. Key findings were employed during this study to deliver a conceptual framework for the strategic value of authentic narrative in branded entertainment, being the secondary contribution of the study. The findings can advise brand communication decision makers on sound branded entertainment practice that engages authentic narrative for strategic brand-building success. It is envisaged that those agencies and clients that are responsive to the explorative and experiential nature of authentic narrative employment in branded entertainment planning will find the proposed conceptual framework to be of immediate strategic value. Companies and agencies in need of empirical evidence can apply the key findings of this study in the development of hypotheses for future research.

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