The True Origins of Branded Content Are Much Stupider Than You Thought

The genre finally gets the fake 500-year history it deserves

You might think branded content is a relatively newfangled marketing ploy. But one production company wants you to know it’s actually been around for a while—actually, since the days of Michelangelo’s David.
A gag promo from Above Average—an online comedy subsidiary of SNL creator Lorne Michael’s Broadway Productions—details the history of branded content since 1501, using a documentary-style approach featuring (mostly) fake experts.
“David was commissioned by Salvatore’s Stone Heaving Shed in 16th century Florence,” explains one, “as part of their marketing campaign, ‘Get Chiseled at Sal’s.'”
Get chiseled. Get it?

The bit continues for four minutes, including many more often overlooked facts about supposedly high-brow cultural events, like how Beethoven’s symphonies were actually all just jingles for a shorts company. (They were apparently called “small pants” in those days.)
Apollo 13, meanwhile, was actually supposed to be a PR stunt for cigarette maker R.J. Morris, but things didn’t quite turn out the way they were supposed to. That’s according to Digiday reporter Sahil Patel—the only real (if not quite genuine, in this context)—voice in the video.
That sent the practice into a tailspin through the ’70s, until 1982, the year when—in what is probably the clip’s funniest characterization—”The Reese’s Pieces Movie” came out. (You know which one it is.)
The clip’s creators, eager to promote their own branded-content capabilities, are sure to let the whole thing spin out with some forward-looking predictions on where the category will go next. “Branded brand, with Russell Brand, and Raisin Branded content,” says Patel.
Cue the callback to close the whole thing out. Because just imagine—your brand, the one you’re paid so handsomely to steward, could be just like Oscar’s Small Pants. The video premiered at the Brand Storytelling At Sundance Film Festival.

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@GabrielBeltrone Gabriel Beltrone is a frequent contributor to Adweek.