Burnett: What makes branded-content work

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With a string of successful appearances by brands on three seasons of NBC's "The Apprentice," producer Mark Burnett has turned the show into a reliable way for advertisers to showcase and sell everything from toothpaste to cars. Staples was the latest retailer to sponsor one of Donald Trump's tasks on the show, and is now selling an organizer in its stores designed by the series' winning team. Advertising Age's Marc Graser sat down with the reality-show uber producer to discuss what makes for successful branded entertainment.

AA: Was "The Apprentice" originally imagined as a showcase for advertisers?

Mr. Burnett: No, it just evolved into one. ... We'd be hurting without real companies and real products. They give us credibility. How many episodes about lemonade sales can you do and keep it interesting?

AA: Why does branded entertainment work?

Mr. Burnett: What makes the integration work is remembering the content. If it's interesting, you remember it. We can always remember good stories and good jokes.

AA: You've been criticized for driving up integration fees. Can you push fees any higher than where they are now?

Mr. Burnett: We haven't raised fees. The price has been bid up by people. It's a free-market economy. I only have a small number of spaces and a huge demand for them.

AA: "The Contender" isn't the ratings grabber it was hyped to be. Are you disappointed with its performance?

Mr. Burnett: I love the show. But I'm convinced that women have control of the remote on Sunday night. It's been a really tough time slot for us.

AA: Most of your shows revolve around the theme of competition. Why?

Mr. Burnett: It's the same reason people enjoy game shows: They like playing along. Competition is very American.

AA: What brand would you still like to work with or task would you still like to tackle?

Mr. Burnett: Any new form of technology. A good task would be marketing the release of a movie.

AA: You seem to be at the top of your game. Is there anything you worry about?

Mr. Burnett: I'm a producer. It's what I do all day.

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