This is the most eloquent account of the potential of (un)-branded content that I've come across. It's from a comment left by Kirt Gunn on Max Lederman's Experience the Message weblog, responding to criticism of the recent clips for Lincoln and Mercury (theneverything.com and lovelybysurprise.com).
Coming from the music industry and the world of (not very rich) independent artists and producers, I absolutely see the potential for thoughtful work to be done by smart brands to produce (for lack of a better word) this kind of entertainment. It's a very succint summary of what non-interruption advertising can be all about when it is done well. People will seek out the content if it's good (this weblog gets a lot of traffic lately with people searching for these clips, by the way), dialogue is initiated and the brand can hope to resonate with it's intended audience in ways that a :30 add cannot.
New marketing should be all about cultural relevance, real engagement, and thoughtful and appropriate content-not annoyance and interruption; that may just require brands to do the smart thing and get out of the consumer's face, and start putting their considerable resources to better use.
Here's an excerpt from Kirt's comments:
I believe that marketers have dropped a crucial tenet of the implied contract with the viewing public- reciprocity.
The fair deal that existed between the marketer and the audience began in the fifties with the concept of sponsorship. A program was "brought to you by" the marketer, and therefore the bond between the audience and the content often became a bond between the audience and the marketer. There was some allegiance to the sponsoring brand due to the fact the sponsor provided value by subsidizing stories they believed in. Its not terribly different from Elizabethan England, Italy during the Renaissance, or 20th Century China in that commissioned works of art were a good way for the government to develop a relationship with an audience that was otherwise disconnected from them. Brands took that model of the commissioned work, and extended it successfully into television- briefly.