State Farm Gets Starring Role in 'Black-ish' Episode

Insurer Is Turning to Customized Brand Integration to Further Its Good Neighbor Message

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Brands have so much to compete with these days -- ad blockers, DVRs, streaming TV and even the lure of the toilet during commercial breaks -- so it makes sense for many marketers to increase their brand integrations. One example is State Farm, which has weaved its company into the plot of an episode of "Black-ish" airing Wednesday evening on ABC.

In the episode, State Farm steps in as a sponsor of the basketball team of Jack, the family's youngest son. The team is christened the "State Farm Good Neighbors."

Ed Gold, advertising director of the Bloomington, Ill.-based insurance company, noted that "Black-ish" provides a natural setting for the insurer, which has been sponsoring kids' sporting activities for years. "It gives us the appropriate environment to place State Farm and certainly we are doing what we always do -- we act like a good neighbor in the community… We do not integrate our brand into a show just to integrate," he said, noting the "world that we live in now with the DVR, with video-on-demand and all the other ways that people have an opportunity not to watch our commercials, including stepping away and going to the bathroom."

Indeed, this isn't the first time 94-year-old State Farm has paid for advertising during a TV show. The brand was criticized for rather-too-obviously integrating its website into an episode of "90210" in 2012. Mr. Gold stressed that the company is very protective of its brand and strives for more natural promotions.

Native integrations and product placements have increased in popularity in recent years. Pepsi recently paid for an integration with Fox's "Empire."

The company, which declined to say how much it is spending, worked with The Marketing Arm on the integration. Unlike social media or blogger posts, which brands are required to label as paid advertisements, marketers do not have to disclose brand integrations of this nature. Earlier this week, department store chain Lord & Taylor settled a claim with the Federal Trade Commission over a failure to disclose it paid for influencer Instagram posts and a magazine article.

State Farm recently chose DDB Chicago for a brand "reframe;" that marketing work is expected later this year. The company spent $596.9 million on U.S. measured media last year, according to Kantar Media.

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