min read

How To Make Branded Content People Will Actually Watch

Entertaining and highly engaging content is nothing new. It’s time for brands to start thinking like media companies. Here are 6 proven brand show formats that will keep your audience engaged.

How To Make Branded Content People Will Actually Watch

Entertaining and highly engaging content is nothing new. It’s time for brands to start thinking like media companies. Here are 6 proven brand show formats that will keep your audience engaged.


min read


March 31, 2023

Watched any good shows lately?

Once just relegated to televisions screens, series-based shows are finding liberation in streaming services, social channels, and through branded experiences. Brands have started embracing entertainment as a way to build their audience and connect with potential consumers through gripping content.

We outline the 6 main types of brand shows that will keep your audience entertained and engaged with your brand.

From Branded Content to Brand Shows

The idea of branded content has been around for quite some time now. Back in the days of print media dominating ad dollars, the “advertorial” (a portmanteau blending advertising and editorial) gained popularity as a way to keep readers attention longer and provide value in the form of an ad.

In contrast to the traditional print ad, an advertorial gave brands a new compelling way to celebrate their products and encourage people to buy. And while many magazine readers could easily spot the difference between regular editorial content and an ad masquerading as news story, it was an effective way for brands to stand out.

The branded content of today has built upon the foundation “advertorials” established, but with greater priority placed on authenticity and storytelling that celebrates the customer’s experience rather than the product itself. We refer to this type of content as Brand Storytelling.

Check out our post on 9 of our favorite brand storytelling examples

Recently, brands who’ve made investments in branded content have been embracing an episodic content model. Rather than focus on storytelling films, the emerging trend is to create compelling series-based shows that are heavy on entertainment and encourage viewers to come back regularly for new episodes.

6 Types of Brand Shows

The Docu-series

As a storytelling format, the documentary gives filmmakers the best ability to authentically capture and tell human-focused stories. Rather than having to write or script tension building moments into the narrative arc, the storyteller can instead rely on real moments of conflict and tension that exist. Emotions are real and palpable to the viewer.

A docu-series takes the format of a documentary and breaks it up into smaller digestible story chapters. Brands are able to create storytelling environments through this format that support their brand values in genuine and surprising ways. For audiences who may outright reject being marketed to, the docu-series is a way to cut through the noise with a refreshing dose of authenticity.

The docu-series brand show format is what we used to create our first original series, Making Legacy. With this show, our aim was to weave together the common threads of design, entrepreneurship, and grit it takes to start a small business and ultimately create a legacy. As a brand, we sought out makers who have a similar value set to ours, and let them explore and share their honest stories.

When to use this format:

‣ When you have existing customers you can mine for genuine and interesting stories.

‣ When you are weaving together multiple storylines on a shared theme.

‣ When you have both time and budget to invest in high-quality documentary storytelling.

The Talk Show

As a product child of the 90’s, my love for a juicy talk show was germinated very early on. Week after week, drama was ratcheted up to absurd levels with surprise guests and shocking revelations. And while I would almost never recommend a brand replicating the human circus of a show like Jerry Springer, I think there are lessons to learn about how you can disrupt the typical host/guest talk show model.

One brand we’ve seen really excel with the talk show format is Wistia with their Brandwagon series. Each episode of this series invites a different guest from a successful brand to talk with Wistia CEO, Chris Savage, about marketing and brand building. In addition to these insightful industry chats, Wistia documents the transformation an old station wagon into a slick "brandwagon" over the course of the series.

When to use this format:

‣ When you have an extensive network of professionals you can tap for guests on the show.

‣ When you want to develop your brand’s “thought leadership.”  

‣ When you have access to a physical space to build out your talk show set.

The Scripted Series

What does the future of TV look like? For a generation of viewers raised on social media able to look past the blurry lines between advertising and entertainment, the future looks like scripted series experiences.

Take for instance the Guilty Party scripted series from AT&T. This nine episode series takes shape as a YA mystery about bullying at a preppy polished high school. If it looks like this school is filled with social media influencers, it’s because it actually is. AT&T partnered with Fullscreen productions to create a series that sheds light on issues facing real high school students, like cyberbullying, depression, eating disorders, sexuality, and poverty. In addition to the episodes, each influencer on the show created in-character vlogs that they would post to their personal social media platforms. In total, this campaign built an extensive universe for fans to engage with and explore that went well beyond the confines of an individual episode.

The takeaway here is that a scripted series can be a very powerful tool when a brand wants to explore complicated issues through storytelling. Real customer experiences can be reimagined into compelling fictional narratives. When executed well, viewers are able to connect and relate to conflicts the characters encounter.

What we love about this form of brand show is that you don’t have to only approach it with a big budget professional Hollywood crew. Creating a series for a social audience, for instance, opens up the potential for excellent storytelling using the same tools available to the audience. If your brand has an active social presence with existing user-generated content, creating a scripted series on a iPhone might be a better approach than bringing in a full-scale production crew.

When to use this format:

‣ When you want to approach a complicated issues from many different angles.

‣ When you have a team of excellent writers on your staff.

The Learning Series

Perhaps the most versatile brand show type on our list, the learning series packs utility and entertainment into a binge-able format. Now that remote learning is here to stay, many brands have adapted their knowledge base content into short episodes that give viewers all the info they need to succeed. One of our favorite examples of this type of show is The Game Plan from Spotify. This series was created for artists looking to bring their musical careers to the next level with Spotify. Each episode gives the audience an immersive behind-the-scenes look at the music industry from celebrity musicians, producers, and music industry legends.

By taking what could easily have been an extensive FAQ page and instead creating a beautifully produced series, Spotify is able to celebrate their artists and inspire people to persevere in their music careers. Leveraging expert voices to inform and educate your audience is a winning approach. Instead of feeling like they’re being thrown into the deep end, a compelling learning series gives your audience a coach, and helps them find success with your product or service.

When to use this format:

‣ When your brand has a robust knowledge base or FAQ page.

‣ When you want to effectively guide your customer to success using your product.

‣ When you want to solidify your brand as an industry leader.

The Reality Show

The unscripted reality show genre is ripe with opportunities for brands. From shows about extreme makeovers to gripping competition shows that have fans rooting for a particular contestant over the course of the series, this genre has proven very successful at keeping audiences engaged. Typically, the reward for the viewer is being able to follow along an emotional and uplifting journey of someone having their life dramatically transformed. Brands behind this type of content benefit from having this emotional payoff associated with their products.

One great example of this comes from a partnership between Ellen DeGeneres’s digital network, Ellentube, and Chevrolet. These two brands came together to create The Build Up, a 6 episode series that pairs Ellen’s design and renovation experts with two former Ellen guests who use their drumming to inspire and motivate students from their former high-school and the greater Baltimore community. Each episode of the show follows a familiar format: the renovation experts inform the audience of the secret project being undertaken, while the recipients are kept in the dark about the surprise. When the secret is finally revealed, the audience gets a front row seat to the surprise.

For brands that want content rich with authentic emotion and raw unscripted moments, the reality show genre is ideal. Given the extensive history of competition and reality shows, we think more brands will embrace this form of storytelling and find creative ways to tie in their brand values.

When to use this format:

‣ When your brand’s services could be showcased through an “extreme makeover” eg. interior design, landscape designer, architect, fashion stylist, etc.

‣ When you have an active and engaged community that regularly creates user-generated content (UGC).

The Animated Series

Animation has always been a powerful tool for brands who need to simplifying complicated topics and themes. This ability, plus the cost savings that come with animation over live-action productions, is the reason many brands embrace animation for explainer videos. Thinking beyond the explainer video though opens up a lot of opportunity for this storytelling medium – especially when applied to an episodic show format.

One of our favorite examples of this done well is a show from Mailchimp called Outer Monologue. Season 1 of this show explores the narratives that run through the minds of 5 different characters. We especially love how this show ratchets up the conflicts and tensions that the narrator shares through hyperbolic animated sequences. Because the action on the screen is animated, the fears of each character as they navigate conflict is given solid shape for the viewer.  

When to use this format:

‣ When you have access to existing podcast and audio interview content you want to transform into a video series.

‣ When you have a strong in-house graphic design & animation team.

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