News & Views
The trickiness of branded content

Forget the thinly-veiled Google stand-in Hooli in HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’; brand recognition is the whole point of new musical sitcom ‘The Best Future’, which follows the journey of a young woman who works at South Korean tech giant Samsung. In a stunt casting coup, the workplace comedy stars singer Mina, from K-Pop group Girl’s Day, as main character Mirae.

“We planned The Best Future to create a story that features work, love, and human relationships that those in their 20s and 30s can relate to,” Samsung told ZDNet earlier this week. “We expect our company image will naturally show to be that of a young and energetic one that people dream of working at. If many people relate, the more people watch and relate to the sitcom.”

Read between the lines and it’s not hard to take the view that ‘The Best Future’, musical numbers and all, will amount to little more than Samsung propaganda. It follows in the footsteps of its previous webseries ‘Endless Energy’, a narrative which included references to the company’s hiring policy and corporate culture.

While branded content is nothing new, it usually takes a slightly more subtle approach. For instance, the ‘First Kiss’ video, which went viral and spawned countless parodies, was actually created by Tatia Pilieva for the Wren clothing group – a fact that went unnoticed by many who shared the video. Her follow-up, featuring strangers undressing each other, was a promo for the TV drama ‘Masters of Sex’.

And then there are the rare, unpredictable occasions when sponsorships take on a life of their own: the Oscars selfie, a viral phenomenon which many have tried (and failed) to recreate, was an indirect result of Ellen DeGeneres being handed a smartphone by Samsung. And so we come full circle. Maybe they figured they would be unable to catch such pure PR lightning in a bottle a second time, and this sparked the decision to eschew all pretence with their new ‘musicom’.

Then again, who’s to say ‘The Best Future’ won’t be the next runaway hit a la ‘Glee’? We’ll just have to wait until next month, when it airs on YouTube, to find out.

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