PQ Media curbed its projections for branded entertainment as early as last February, saying the category's growth would slow to the high single digits this year after increasing 13.9% to become a $25.4 billion business in 2008. Product placement and integrations accounted for 15% of that business in 2008, with the rest going to events, sponsorships and other branded projects.
Helping lead the growth in recent years is Doug Scott, head of Ogilvy & Mather's branded-content division. Since joining Ogilvy in 2006, Mr. Scott has guided a diverse client roster through all aspects of the entertainment industry, from scripted TV (Unilever's Pond's on USA's "The Starter Wife") to music (a just-launched campaign for Kraft's Crystal Light featuring a new song from R&B songstress Estelle) to cable news (IBM's "The Business Of Innovation" on CNBC).
Although product placement and integrations have been the fastest-growing sector of branded entertainment, Mr. Scott has been similarly focused on single-channel entertainment programs such as microsites, branded video content and custom-created cable TV sponsorships.
"The need for accountability in marketing expenditures is greater than it's ever been, and I think the way that we're approaching branded content is somewhat unique in that it's a holistic approach," he said.
A more narrowly targeted model also enables Ogilvy to track a program's direct affect on sales. The agency was able to show, for instance, that Hellman's Mayonnaise doubled its year-over-year sales growth after launching a microseries, "In Search of Real Food," on Yahoo Food in 2007. Last summer, Dupont paint saw a sales boost after sponsoring a rebuilding initiative of Greensburg, Kan., that aired across Discovery Communications networks such as Discovery Channel, TLC and Planet Green.
Mr. Scott is aiming for similar results with new efforts such as "Digital Cribs," a microsite recently launched to drive sales for Cisco's consumer-products line and Estelle's new single, "Star," recorded exclusively for a new Crystal Light campaign that premiered last Sunday during E! channel's pre-Grammy red-carpet coverage.
Madison & Vine recently spoke with Mr. Scott to find out where branded entertainment is prioritized in clients' budgets for 2009; what's happening with the evolving metrics model; and why product placement should no longer be the focus of advertisers' branded-entertainment strategies.
Madison & Vine: How is branded entertainment holding up at a time when advertisers are looking to cut any kind of budget regarded as experimental or off-strategy?
Doug Scott: Clients are definitely looking to include it in their overall marketing mix, and we're getting a lot more interest in entertainment initiatives than I've seen in the past. There's still experimentation taking place, where clients are dipping their toe in before they make larger investments ... in entertainment marketing. But a larger part is due to the fact that brands are looking for alternatives to traditional measured media to find more effective ways to engage the audience in an environment where you have screen-shifting and time-shifting and viewer control.
M&V: Because of the heightened demand for incorporating entertainment into all parts of a brand's strategy, what metrics are you favoring these days?
Mr. Scott: The first metric for us obviously is sales. That sales metric is really driven by two other metrics, one of which is a brand metric: What was the brand awareness, the brand lift, the brand shift? How are you making that brand more culturally relevant in an environment where the engagement with brands is floating to an audience much greater than it's ever been?
Then there's the media metric. We firmly believe that branded content really establishes this idea of working content, which can deliver more reach or impressions than that of working media because of digital distribution channels. So if you have really good content that can live in a multiplatform environment, the consumer you can target within an overall audience will both passively view the content and actively engage with a brand, thus moving the consumer up on the brand's consideration line.
Mr. Scott: The nature and the approach of the programs themselves are all about the underlying ROI. We're not just looking at the entertainment itself in a silo. It's about how it can be incorporated into advertising, the PR strategy around that, promotionally how that can be activated at retail, how online can be used to engage the audience and subsequently qualify that audience into a subset of consumers. Then it's about: Where are the natural retail partnerships to extend from a [consumer-package-goods] standpoint? And, of course, distribution: How do we go mass, narrow-cast and single-cast? And across all that, recognizing there is an entertainment asset that can be extended in a lot of different ways.
M&V: Pond's was one of the biggest success stories for brand integration after "The Starter Wife" in 2007, yet you've been focusing a lot more on single-channel, narrowcasted programs such as "Digital Cribs" for Cisco lately. Are scripted integrations such as "Starter Wife" just more difficult to execute now, or are they proving to be less effective as they become more commonplace?
Mr. Scott: Product placement, to me, is an easy-to-have, not a must-have, especially in the context of a story. It's a very crowded marketplace to be able to cut through, to be able to resonate when the receiver of that message is entertainment. If you really look back into the early days of television, the soap opera was an exchange the brand was making with the audience, in this case the housewives who were watching as they ironed their husbands' shirts. In return the brand got their time or attention, and in doing so began some kind of brand relationship, so the next time Mrs. Smith went to the market, she was more prone to buy P&G because she felt value exchange there.
I think we as marketers have lost that exchange because of the amount of things vying for our time -- and extent of the disruption we all experience on a daily basis. When you get into a taxicab today, the minute you tell the driver where you're going and he starts the meter, the TV goes on, and you have to take a second out of your time and, in essence, take a second out of the conversation you're in to press "off." We live in a world of disruptive media. What value do I get from people infringing upon my space with their message?
M&V: So which networks are doing a good job managing that disruption?
Mr. Scott: NBC has been the most progressive network out there, in large part to [NBC Entertainment/Universal Media Studios co-chairmen Ben] Silverman and [Marc] Graboff in understanding what's old is new. The distribution platforms they have out there, with Hulu and a few other NBC digital channels, really give you the single-cast environment to take advantage of that. What that model does is it exhibits the changing economics of the business -- and really assists the network to offset some of its risk with these programs, and develop unique marketing partnerships from the ground up where the brand really gets greater value than just 30-second spots.