Ever heard of branded entertainment?

How about content marketing? Or storytelling, or brand journalism?

They’re all marketing industry buzzwords to describe the latest step in the evolution of communications around marketing, public relations, advertising and technology. In recent years, as traditional media faded and smartphones put more power in consumers’ hands, brands have been evolving to meet growing consumer needs. Some, like Coca-Cola, have led the field with huge undertakings.

And just down the street from Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta, the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) is moving things along even further, particularly for the next generation.

This spring, SCAD began classes in the world’s first “Branded Entertainment” college major, with the first round of graduates expected hitting the job market in four 2019.

The phrase might be new to most people. But examples of branded entertainment are everywhere.

“It means creating entertaining content that can capture and maintain consumer attention,” says Stafford Green, a retired Coca-Cola marketing executive who helped found the SCAD program and is its honorary chairman. “It allows brands to make deeper connections with their audiences by engaging them wherever they happen to be – at a concert, on a mobile phone, watching TV, sitting with a PC, eating popcorn at a cinema, or experiencing an art installation.”

Green brought about 30 students recently to a lecture and Q&A with Coke marketing executive Tom Daly. Among other things, Daly pointed out the company’s special strength in tapping the ever-growing mobile market.

“Mobile is affecting everything in the business,” Daly said, adding that a billion people in the world have a mobile phone but no bank account. “This is what we do best – connecting people.”

The SCAD students said they are drawn to the Branded Entertainment studies because of the changing nature of marketing – and their generation’s unique vantage point. Millennials haven’t grown up with earlier distinctions between marketing, entertainment and journalism. They do everything on their smartphones. They don’t want to be sold to all the time.

Instead, they want to be involved with a brand. And content, whether a video game or a viral video, should do more than sell a product or service. With so many channels and media competing for our attention, brands have to stand out with relevant, engaging content.

These students want to learn how to do that.

Khambrea Johnkins, 23, liked the successful Coke Zero soundwave campaign Daly discussed. Cans of Coke Zero had scannable soundwaves, which allowed consumers to listen to new music.

“That’s a great way of storytelling and it reflects Coke tremendously – it reflects happiness and makes you feel amazing,” says Johnkins, who is from Miami.  “We always have our phones. You take your phone and you scan the can. The whole concept was amazing.”

Social media channels are among the most effective for brand marketing – Facebook, Twitter and others.

Bahati Mwangoji, 18, from Kenya, hopes the SCAD degree in Branded Entertainment will take her to a top advertising firm. “This major would help me get there just because it revolves around the digital world -- and that's something that's evolving pretty fast in our day and age,” she says. “Instead of learning how to sell stuff, you learn how to get a product emotionally involved in someone's life. We have so many brands that just come at you to buy something, yet they don't really give us a reason why.”

SCAD Students
SCAD students at Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta.

‘It’s forward-thinking’

SCAD program coordinator Judy Salzinger came to the school after a career in marketing and advertising. The Branded Entertainment prism helps make today’s fast-moving concepts understandable and engaging for students and parents. And it shows how the college – with about 10,000 total students and satellites in Europe and Asia – is innovating for the future.

“This is really unique,” she says. “It’s forward-thinking and we’re very excited about it.”

The program will help prepare students for careers in gaming, interactive media, TV and film, and more, she says.

Branded entertainment is a multibillion-dollar market, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

“This is such a booming industry,” she says. “Millennials are just totally zoned it – they live this way; it’s part of their life.”