What's next? Is it branded content?

I find myself pondering the question "What's next in financial services marketing?" a lot lately. There has been this two- to three-year rush to embrace social media and now everyone seems to be here! Great, now what?

I am not sure what's next, but I have observed that it is getting increasingly tough for financial institutions (and any company for that matter) to stand out amongst the increasingly crowded social media space. It is no longer the wild social media west, it's starting to feel like Manhattan in rush hour!

With new media evangelists (Denise Wymore, you know who you are) giving traditional media its last rights, and companies tweeting til the cows come home and clamoring for Facebook fandom, it's bringing to light the absolute need for high-quality break-out content in both written and video form. Enter branded content—a modern spin on the age-old, serialized soap opera. From Wikipedia:

Advertainment is a relatively new form of advertising medium that blurs conventional distinctions between what constitutes advertising and what constitutes entertainment. Branded content is essentially a fusion of the two into one product intended to be distributed as entertainment content, albeit with a highly branded quality. Advertainment, unlike conventional forms of entertainment content, is generally funded entirely by a brand or corporation rather than, for example, a Movie studio or a group of producers. However, it can be argued that this is just a new name for the same type of marketing that was pioneered by soap manufacturers in the early days of radio and television with the soap opera.

With 24 hours of video content being uploaded to YouTube every minute, there is something to be said for producing entertaining content that rises above a guy trying to set a record for the most kicks to the crotch (click at your own risk) and dogs riding skateboards. Producing quality content that people want to watch and spread to others is becoming increasingly important to get noticed.

In our own little way, this is what we have been attempting to do with our Living Young & Free Show.

Now ponder this new example of financial services marketing: In Gayle We Trust brought to you by American Family Insurance and produced by NBC Universal Digital Studios. Here is a press release for more info.

From the about page:

Nestled somewhere in the middle of America, Maple Grove is populated with a host of colorful characters, and they all turn to one person for insurance needs, counseling and much much more. Though an insurance agent by trade, Gayle Evans has become the default cure-all for the small town, as her pleasant disposition and sound advice has made her a go-to resource in the lives of her clients. From a newlywed couple seeking weekly marital advice, to a over-confident plumber trying to protect his coveted identity, to a traveling hypnotist needing liability coverage, Gayle's clientele range from sympathetic to pathetic to outright bizarre. In Gayle We Trust, a 10-part comedy series from NBCU Digital Studio is written and directed by multiple Emmy-winner Brent Forrester (The Office, The Simpsons, King of the Hill).

It immersive, it's entertaining, it must cost millions. What can we learn from this? Is branded content the equivalent of Web 3.0? Is it the next big thing?

Tim