Marketers have not yet always realized that consumers hardly engage with brands. Ensuring that consumers do in that single relevant situation has thus been elevated to (top) sport. The difference maker in this contest is the ability to connect as a brand to a consumer need and "pop up" in a relevant (buying) situation. Professor Byron Sharp (Ehrenberg-Bass Institute) calls this a Category Entry Point, or CEP. Smart brands figure out which CEPs are important in their category, and which ones within that specifically fit their brand. Once clear, then consistency in communication is a big part of success in claiming the CEP. Recent research by Noud Schartman, PhD candidate at VU Amsterdam and Validators, shows that Branded Content can act as a catalyst in this.

The operation of mental availability
To grow in market share, you need to be relevant as a brand in more situations. We also call this mental availability. Mission for marketers is therefore to influence this mental availability. Mental availability can be explained using two theories, the Associative Network Theory and the Weak Theory of Advertising. Associative Network Theory states that memory is a network composed of "nodes" connected by "associative links. Brand information is stored in brand associations. According to the Weak Theory of Advertising, ads rarely convince consumers directly to buy your brand. However, ads do create associative links or reinforce existing associations and links between your brand and relevant category cues.

Improve mental availability
To improve the mental availability of a brand, as a brand you will have to ensure that the consumer brain retrieves the right brand associations faster in the right (buying) situation(s). You do this by strengthening and expanding your association network. Take the Nespresso brand, for example. When seeing or hearing this brand name, many people think of "coffee" or "wake up. Another association is made with actor George Clooney and the phrase "What else? By "building" an association network through consistent communication, creators increase the likelihood that consumers will actually pick Nespresso off the shelf.

The Benefits of Branded Content
More "traditional" advertising is still very important to brands, but in recent years Branded Content has also gained a firm foothold in many brands' media mix. What are the similarities and differences between Branded Content and more mainstream ads with respect to the mental availability issue? Because Branded Content is not tied to a set template or medium type, it is a very flexible content form. This allows for more opportunities for new nodes and associations. Often, Branded Content is very authentic. By presenting a story more credibly, the nodes reinforce themselves.

But what effect, then, does Branded Content have on mental availability?
To investigate this, we conducted a study of two renditions by Hyundai. This one includes a more mainstream TV commercial with a product introduction and a documentary-style short film.


We tested both expressions, and what did we find out? Branded content performs just as well as advertising. And in some ways even better.

 AdvertisingBranded ContentNo expression
Mental market share17.79%18.73%10.0%
Mental range64.36%64.36%46.53%
Network size6.456.824.96


The success ingredients of Branded Content

Noud Schartman: "This research really proved to be an eye opener on added value of Branded Content compared to more traditional advertising. For example, Branded Content was better able to evoke positive emotion: Branded Content scored a 4.1 on overall rating of the expression, the commercial a 3.6. Viewers were better able to recall the Hyundai brand after seeing Branded Content (87%) than after watching the commercial (75%). We also saw that people were a lot more likely to share the expression with friends, colleagues or other acquaintances. The NPS was 6 versus 4.5.

Branded Content more effective for engaged audience
One of the most beautiful and interesting results was about relevance for consumers. In the graph below, we see that for people who do not find cars interesting, the effect of the ad is greater (increase from 10.0% to 14.14%, compared to 11.45% for Branded Content). However, when you reach the relevant target audience with your Branded Content expression, the effect of Branded Content skyrockets. Then it scores even better than the ad. Thus, the medium type immediately gains relevance.

For questions about Branded Content research, please feel free to email