July 4, 2024

What Would The Bear Do: Brand Publishing vs. Branded Content

The Bear functions a lot like brand publishing, with Carmey creating his own “content,” that being total control of his menu and whatnot, whereas Eleven Madison Park is our example of branded content.

Kate Farley

Photo Credit: FX/Hulu

So we should start with a full disclosure, yeah? 

I don’t live in the (rather pompously) self-proclaimed “greatest city in the world, but the “second city.” Nor do I live in the “city that never sleeps,” but the city that just wants to nap (not an official title yet, but I’m still hoping it catches on). And knowing this about me, you may think, yeah, this person’s got some biased opinions about whether The Bear’s New York City restaurant Eleven Madison Park (or Noma, if you prefer) trumps Chicagoland’s The Beef-turned-The Bear or vice versa. Can such a debate ever really be settled, anyway, when it’s such a matter of taste? Ask a New Yorker or Chicagoan, and they’ll say yes. But pretty much anyone else who’s more logical and less geographically biased will probably give you a far more reasonable and nuanced response. 

For those waiting for brand publishing and branded content to get mentioned, stick with me here. “The Bear” is a cultural phenomenon, and I’m writing about it the day after Season 3 dropped. Bear with me, if you will (ba-dum). So let’s talk Eleven Madison Park. What do we know about it from The Bear? Carmey doesn’t run it. It’s not his vision. He relies on the alleged “genius” of more pompous and arrogant chefs who abuse him to “collaborate” (using the term lightly, but from what we know of where Carmey landed, it did eventually happen) and create these fantastical dishes. 

Then there’s The Bear. After Mikey passes, it’s Carmey’s vision, more or less, in the sense that he’s now the pro in charge. It’s essentially his vision and his menu; he even renames the place. 

These are two very different models for Carmey, and from how he describes them in the show, we know that he sees the pros and cons. While Carmey likely stays with The Bear’s model out of loyalty to his new staff and his brother’s legacy, most other businesses can choose between these models.

Do you see where this is going yet? Yeah, OK. Let me fill this in for you to make it as clear as possible. In TV terms, The Bear functions a lot like brand publishing, with Carmey creating his own “content,” that being total control of his menu and whatnot, whereas Eleven Madison Park (again, or Noma, if you chose that option) is our example of branded content, where Carmey worked with a “pro” to create and collaborate with “the pros” to create better content, or better menus and dishes, in his case. 

OK, Great. Are You Gonna, Like, Define Those or Something? 

Well, sure. But doing that from the start wouldn’t have been as effective, no? Yes? OK. Shockingly, Webster’s dictionary could not define these terms neatly for me. And if you Google the terms “brand publishing” and “branded content,” you’ll get approximately 1.475 billion definitions. So I had to actually use my brain, experience and fancy, overpriced M.S. and some robot help to bring to you these really mediocre but passable definitions: 

Brand publishing: Self-created content a brand distributes, usually focusing on informative or educational content, such as thought leadership in its industry

Branded content: Content created by a third party that usually puts a brand’s message into a story or article relevant to the third party’s audience

So, the main difference we’re talking about here is that brand publishers are almost entirely in control of their messaging. In contrast, brands using branded content are taking advantage of experts’ audiences, voices, expertise or some other critical factor the brand may be lacking. 

OK, I Think I Got It. But Could You Elaborate?

But of course! Here are just a few more bullet points to further explain what we’re cooking up here: 

Brand Publishing:

  • Creator: The brand 
  • Content Focus: Informative or educational content (IE: thought leadership) 
  • Distribution: Brand-owned channels (IE: websites, blogs, social media)
  • Goals: Build trust, establish the brand as an authority, and build long-term relationships with the audience
  • The Bear Example: Carmey & The Bear

Branded Content:

  • Creator: A third-party collaborator (IE: publisher, influencer)
  • Content Focus: Integrate brand message into content relevant to the publisher's audience
  • Distribution: Shared on the third party's channels, can be potentially amplified by the brand.
  • Goals: Leverage the credibility and reach of the third party to reach a wider audience and promote the brand in a less promotional way
  • The Bear Example: Carmey & Eleven Madison Park (again, or Noma)

Uh, OK. Is One Better Than The Other, Algo-Wise?

The sad truth is this: I don’t know. I don’t even think Mr. Google, Mrs. Yahoo or Mx. Bing know. Honestly. Truly. Really. I really have very little faith in the control that us wee content creators have over the rules of algo-land. But I do know this: Clear, concise, good content will always be the best content. Stick to what you know about the basics of content writing, and don’t try to over-complicate things so much. 

The same applies to choosing brand publishing or branded content. And, to be more honest, to quote the greats of my generation: “Porque no los dos?” Which is Gen Zish for “why not both?” Look at those bullet points again real quick. Go ahead – I’ll wait. Did it? Great. Indeed, Carmey can’t work in New York and Chicago, but luckily, we live in a remote world where we can take advantage of many content opportunities that didn’t exist even five years ago. So, tapping into both The Bear (brand publishing, if you follow) and Eleven Madison Park (branded content) at the same time gives you some distinct advantages (again, courtesy of yee old brain and past experience):

  • Multi-Channel Brand Narratives: Telling your core story via brand publishing and unique stories that help reach new audiences using branded content
  • Credibility & Authenticity: Creating brand authority and expertise with in-house brand publishing while using collaborations with trusted, credible partners to build up external validation and trust using branded content
  • Targeted Reach: Targeting your core audience via brand publishing while using branded content to reach unique demographics
  • Content Diversity and Consistency: Using a consistent voice through brand publishing while exploring new perspectives and freshness through branded content

Of course, where there are pros, cons are sure to follow. So let’s cut to the chase, yeah? Some potential oopsy whoopsies include: 

  • Resource Strain: Managing quality internal and external content can put huge strains on things like time, staffing, budgets, you name it
  • Maintaining Quality: Keeping in-house content engaging and on-brand while making sure external partnerships reflect your voice
  • Measuring Success: Tracking success will likely require different metrics for in-house vs. external content

Chicago vs. New York: Who to Choose?

Carmey left his fancy, pricky, pompous New York City restaurants behind and took over The Bear, where he went from working to help create someone else’s vision to working in-house to create his own. Was one choice better than the other? It’s hard to say, really. You have to ask: What are your goals? What do you value: control over your voice or integrating new and fresh voices into your content? Are you trying to expand your audience or better engage the one you have now? Or are you trying to do all the above? And if so, do you have the time and workforce to handle that? 

To recap: There are a lot of sweet, sweet, delicious content strategies out there. Two ill-defined but oft-talked-about ones are brand publishing and branded content. To explain it to your grandmother: Brand publishing simply means writing and publishing content in-house, versus branded content, which is doing so with a partner or collaborator through their syndication channel (or channels). The great algo-content overlords have yet to tell us if they prefer one over the other, and so far, businesses have had success with both. The best way to decide which is right for you is to determine your needs, which may mean actually using both in the long run. 

There you have it: brand publishing vs. branded content summed up in a neat bow, no locking yourself in a walk-in freezer and confessing your deep, dark secrets to a “colleague” required (if you know, you know; if you didn’t, are you really telling me you still haven’t watched The Bear? Honestly.). 

So, what’s on the menu for your content team’s syndication strategy tonight? 

Too far? I’ll see myself out. (Corner!)

Kate Farley

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