By Andrew Cole, Published by Adweek

Since its humble beginnings, online retail has evolved in myriad ways to streamline experiences for consumers—and its momentum is undeniable, with a 76% increase in total U.S. online retail sales over the last four years according to eMarketer. Content has been key in this progression as it feeds into online retail by initiating the desire to purchase.

For most of this time, the gap between content and commerce remained largely unaddressed. Typically, when consumers learned about a new product while watching TV there was no direct link or immediate call to action driving purchase, leaving the consumer on their own to find the product online or in store.

But this path to purchase is evolving to the point where brands have the capability to connect online retail with other cultural formats, like TV shows and movies, to more seamlessly merge content and commerce.

One prime example of connecting content and commerce is the rise of brand-funded entertainment. Notable instances of this successful union include Disney’s The Mighty Ducks and the establishment of the Anaheim Ducks NHL expansion team, as well as the popular LEGO film franchise and the reality TV show LEGO Masters, which weave the fabric of the brand into the storytelling.

To explore the growing convergence of content and commerce, MAGNA Global, Inc. and Amazon Ads partnered on a recent study, “The Converging World of Content + Commerce” that examined how these concepts deliver value for brands relative to traditional means, such as standard TV ads.

The findings from this study reveal the impact these formats have on the consumer experience in a world where the boundaries of brand, content and commerce continue to blur. Here are some of the key findings.

Consumers care more about content quality than brand participation
The study found that consumers do not differentiate if TV shows are created by a brand—what keeps them watching is the content itself. When asked why they chose to watch brand-funded entertainment, 59% of respondents said they found the show “fun to watch.”

Other top reasons why respondents chose to watch brand-funded entertainment were because they “enjoyed the content” (45%) and “learned something new” (34%).

Few members of the surveyed audience were deterred by the fact that a brand created the show; interestingly, brand involvement in content creation elevated esteem for both the brand (66%) and show (67%) from the respondents’ perspective.

Viewers accept brand-funded entertainment more than traditional commercials
The participants in the study preferred brand-funded entertainment over the traditional TV ad format, with a higher index among those who primarily stream video content (+10%) in comparison to traditional pay TV viewers.

Given the positive response to brand-funded entertainment, this is a prime opportunity for brands to weave themselves into culture, inspire motivation and drive purchase intent among their audience.

The study also shows that younger audiences in particular—like adult Gen Z and millennials—react positively to brand-funded entertainment. This positive reaction, in turn, fuels momentum for intent and purchase signals.

Evolving the standard path to purchase is an area of opportunity for brands
The existing path to purchase, especially from products seen on TV shows to online or offline purchase, can cause friction for the consumer. Over half of the consumers surveyed in the study said they felt frustration when trying to purchase a product seen in a TV show (52%).

Frustration was especially felt among younger generations, such as adult Gen Z (+13% higher than the baseline survey population) and millennials (+7% higher than the baseline survey population).

Expediting the path to purchase is an opportunity for brands across all industries and price points. Among survey respondents, 34% desired to purchase low-cost products (food, home cleaning supplies, etc.) immediately. The desire to purchase immediately for mid-cost products (clothing, games, etc.) was similar at 29%. And the study shows that even with products at a higher price tag (cars, insurance, etc.), audiences still want to have the ability to research the product or service immediately (33%).

Forward-thinking brands looking to optimize the consumer shopping experience should reimagine how they can dovetail their content and commerce experiences in a way that not only delights consumers, but battles the long-held belief among marketers that these categories must be treated as mutually exclusive.

Brand-funded entertainment inspires commerce moments
Audiences are often inspired to purchase what they see featured on TV shows when the content sparks their interest.

While watching TV shows, 63% of respondents reported wanting to purchase a product they saw either every single time or sometimes. This urge was most felt by younger generations, such as adult Gen Z and millennials, with Gen Z leading the way (+20% when compared to the respondent average).

Often, the desire to purchase products from TV content leads to actual purchases. Overall, 54% of respondents said that they had purchased products they saw on TV shows. Generation-wise, millennials tend to be most prone to purchasing (+9%), followed by adult Gen Z. Even though the existing path to purchase from TV ads can at times be cumbersome, the study shows that consumers still find ways to get what they need albeit with friction.

Moving forward in the converging worlds of content and commerce
Although there is high interest in purchasing products seen on TV shows, the current trajectory on the path to purchase includes more friction than is necessary given today’s emerging tech capabilities. In turn, this friction can lead to frustrated consumers and a leaking pipeline for brands.

Forward-thinking brands should take note of these pain points and begin to think about how they can innovate in a way that would solve for this—particularly among younger adult generations—which would have both short- and long-term positive implications for the brand and consumer.

It’s time to merge the content and commerce experiences for viewers in a way that makes their purchase journey smoother and more intuitive and, perhaps more importantly, in a format that entertains and delights them.

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