Five Best Branded-Entertainment Deals of 2009

American, Hilton Fly High (and Cheap) With Clooney While Subway Helps Save Spy Show 'Chuck'

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- This year was not a very good one for brands and celebrities. In February, Wrigley and R&B singer Chris Brown proved to be not quite "Forever," and recession-ravaged retailers dropped vanity lines from celebs from their racks. By year's end, life wasn't much better for Gillette, Accenture, Tag Heuer and Gatorade (thanks, Tiger!). Oh, and the FTC would like to have a word about your tweets too, thanks.

Some marketers also learned that not every deal in the entertainment space is productive. Anheuser-Busch finally pulled the plug on Bud.TV at year's start, and Microsoft learned a valuable lesson about comedy ("Seth MacFarlane and Microsoft walk into a bar, bartender says ... get out.")

But all was not lost on the branded-entertainment front. "Mad Men" lends a whiff of chic to some retailers, Hasbro goes Hollywood with phenomenal results, Activia gets the last laugh after a fun run on "Saturday Night Live" (which itself became a creator for branded comedic shorts) and even PepsiCo's little Izze Sparkling Pomegranate beverage brand gets to rub shoulders with Katherine Heigl's Izzie Stevens on ABC's "Grey's Anatomy."

So what brands did well this year in the space? Here's our look at the five best branded-entertainment deals of the past year. From the big screen to your PC, these brands showed that the medium matters -- but context and giving consumers what they want matters more.

"Up In The Air" and American Airlines, Hilton Hotels

The year's most critically acclaimed branded-entertainment deal is also one of the cheapest in terms of money changing hands between parties. American Airlines and Hilton Hotels didn't pay for their extensive storyline integrations into Jason Reitman's film, which features George Clooney as a career business traveler whose stated goal is to achieve 10 million frequent-flier miles on American, all while staying at various Hilton hotels throughout his travels. In exchange for their screen time, valued at $14.5 million in unpaid exposure by entertainment research firm Front Row Analytics, Hilton and American each unveiled extensive marketing campaigns and sweepstakes to help promote the film to their own customer bases.

"Chuck" and Subway

Here's proof that brands can be defibrillators for fan-favorite shows on the brink of cancellation. Subway signed up for a multi-episode integration and an extensive in-store "$5 footlong" promotion for the NBC sitcom that directly contributed to the show's third-season renewal. Although some fans of NBC's comedy spy series were a bit put off by the excessive Subway shout-outs, they ultimately have the sandwich maker to thank when the show returns for a 13-episode run after the Winter Olympics.

"Transformers" and General Motors, Hasbro, Kmart, Mars, Cisco, LG, etc.

The year's highest-grossing movie ($402 million) was also a veritable smorgasbord for brands. After a bankrupt General Motors couldn't pitch in much marketing dollars to promote its starring role for the Chevy Camaro, a fleet of marketers such as Kmart, Mars and Burger King all teamed up to pick up GM's slack. In the film itself, Audi, Apple, Budweiser, U-Haul, Ford, Mountain Dew and Southwest Airlines all made appearances, while LG and Cisco also received enough unpaid product-placement exposure valued at a combined $10.2 million, according to Front Row Analytics. It also helped blaze a trail for co-producer Hasbro's upcoming kids cable network with Discovery, launching in late 2010.

"Easy to Assemble," Ikea

It's been a good year for Ikea in Hollywood. The Swedish furniture chain played host to a key scene in this summer's indie hit "(500) Days of Summer," while its sponsored web series, "Easy to Assemble," became the most-watched branded web show to date. Created by actress Illeana Douglas, "Easy to Assemble" racked up 5 million views (and counting) during its second season, racking up more organic traffic than MSN's "In the Motherhood" through distribution on My Damn Channel and key Ikea fan sites. The show has gained such a big following that Ikea has already ordered three more episodes of the second season (with talks to renew for a third) and sponsored a spinoff, "Sparhusen," about a fictional Swedish pop band co-starring Keanu Reeves. A second spinoff, an Ikea-based talk show called "Forty and Bitter" hosted by Justine Bateman, is also in the works.

Microsoft's "Bing-A-Thon"

Microsoft rolled out a $100 million marketing blitz for a larger stake in the online search market this year, resulting in a 9% increase in share (OK, that's up from a dismal 0.4%, so it's still got a ways to go...). Perhaps the wide-ranging campaign's ultimate highlight was this live one-hour comedic telethon that aired on Hulu June 8 and became the video site's first-ever live broadcast and fourth most-watched show of the day. Co-created by Creative Artists Agency and hosted by "SNL" player Jason Sudeikis and G4's Olivia Munn, the show demonstrated many shades of Bing's "decision engine" prowess by enlisting price-predictor freeze dancers, mermen, giants, the world's fastest escape artist and a Guinness record-breaking chimp.

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