With the digital revolution -- where every celebrity, publisher, agency or client can produce content relatively quickly (yet, somehow, they still all feature a hilarious scenario involving a hidden camera and Ashton Kutcher) -- the competition to play in this space is heating up. However, just because everyone's now in the game, it doesn't mean they are all doing it well.
Great branded entertainment must cover five key categories:
It must be an experience that could only be brought to you by the brand in question.
In order to promote its new lineup, the Cartoon Network created a series of videos known as "The Wedgies," which featured the characters from the show. The videos were developed around stories involving individual characters from "The Wedgies." Individual episodes were specific to the brand that each character represented. They were successful in promoting the show, and viewers were able to share their thoughts of the videos with their friends through posts and social media.
The brand or product must play an integral role in moving the story forward.
You can have 100-plus product placements in a new movie, but unless your brand is somehow tied to the hero or storyline in a meaningful or authentic way, you're just background noise. Though almost a decade has past since it made its debut, BMW's groundbreaking online film series from then-agency Fallon, "The Hire," remains a classic example. The plot was simple: The main character, played by actor Clive Owen, as a mysterious BMW-driving chauffeur, provided transportation to various people in different episodes. The cars were crucial to the storyline. Without the cars, the story did not move forward.
Your brand has to have the right to create this content.
The show "It's Everybody's Business" would not have worked if just any businessman was involved. Former General Electric chief Jack Welch, an authority in the business world, created the show and shared the spotlight with Microsoft throughout the branded-entertainment web series. The premise was that Jack and Suzy Welch would help different businesses solve problems in order to operate more efficiently. This show would not have worked with just anyone. Because Welch is a legend in the business world and famous for his problem-solving strategies at GE, he was able to create a show that was believable and real.
The content must leave room for speculation, co-creation or interaction.
Holiday Inn Express' "The Smart Show," a web series that humorously portrayed the challenges of traveling, did a great job at integrating different mediums to continue the conversation with the audience. Holiday Inn launched "The Smart Show" website, which provided information for travelers including deals of the week and travel tips based on that week's episode. It also created a blog allowing the community to communicate directly with one another about the episode, experiences they had and other travel queries. Because the conversation continued long after the episodes had aired, the series was a success and the brand continued to grow.
The content must be entertaining, informative, interesting or useful whether a brand is present or not.
The "Life Without HP" series is a prime example of interesting videos that have a storyline outside of the brand's involvement. The short videos are entertaining and appealing regardless of Hewlett-Packard's presence. The featured products are secondary to the storylines at hand, creating a memorable experience for the viewer and one that they are more likely to talk about and pass on to their peers.
Considering how many pieces of branded entertainment we as consumers and marketers see on a daily basis, I also wanted to point out a few interesting trends that are garnering attention.
Technology is really pushing the boundary of brand-to-consumer connections. For example, Doritos Hotel 626 puts the participant in a virtual horror film, and tops it all off with gaming, singing, webcams and actual phone calls from the hotel.
Personalization of video, photos and branded experiences are bringing consumers deeper into the fold. Check out this experience built for "The Dark Knight" and Verizon Wireless, where a user can upload a picture of a friend and add his face to the video of an inmate in an insane asylum.
Another great example is the use of Facebook Connect by the video game Prototype. The website looks at basic profile information, including work history and profile photos, then displays that information directly in the trailer. It uses the participant's personal information to evoke strong emotion and creates an instant connection to the game.
The message here is simple but powerful. Create a branded experience that follows the tenants of good marketing as outlined above, but use technology and social connectivity to involve the audience and allow for co-creation. People love telling stories as much as they do hearing them. They'll really listen and interact if the experience isn't just about your brand, but about their favorite topic -- themselves.
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