Vodafone leads way on branded content

Despite years of evidence to the contrary, PR is still viewed by some clients as a cheaper version of advertising. But occasionally an initiative comes along that demonstrates how PR can be more powerful than advertising, due to its inherent subtlety.

Vodafone's 2006 live music programme 'TBA' is just such an initiative (News, p1). Advertising will play its part, but the whole idea of the project is to get the target audience - 18 to 24-year-olds - to feel they have 'discovered' a number of 'spontaneous' gigs.

Cleverly, it taps into this demographic's preference for word-of-mouth as its means of credible information. This is where Shine Communications comes in. It will create a viral spread of information about the gigs, without resorting to cliched mass media techniques. If it is done well, the promotion will achieve widespread reach, while retaining an appropriately underground feel.

This is a modern marketing take on the rave phenomenon of the late 1980s, when organisers would put on events at the last minute and hordes of youngsters drove round the M25 waiting for venue details.

Since then, of course, the advent of the internet and the ubiquity of mobile phones mean information is spread much more quickly. But Vodafone is ideally positioned to understand the viral techniques required - and to benefit from a post-gig voting procedure.

Unlike so many big brands today, Vodafone has avoided simply slapping its logo on the standard circuit of festivals and gig tours. Instead it is adding value by creating more live music opportunities in urban centres.

This creation of branded content - or brand entertainment as some specialists call it - is a potential goldmine for PR practitioners because it requires the lightness of touch and media-neutral thinking that lies at the heart of the best media relations practice.

Shine's challenge will be to resist client wishes to brand everything in sight, and to argue for as much subtlety in the message as there will be in the medium.

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