Branded-Entertainment Lessons Courtesy of a Quebec TV Show

Gone in 30 Chief John Hall on His Takeaways Following a Successful Integration With Retailer Hudson Bay

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John Hall
John Hall
Thanks to DVRs, the internet and savvy TV viewers, it is no wonder branded entertainment is a $26 billion industry, according to PQ Media. But could it be significantly more? The answer is yes, if advertisers are smarter at reaching an audience that no longer finds it necessary to sit through a 30-second spot.

The industry is slated to grow another 5% by the end of 2015, according to the study, but a closer look reveals that most of that number is made up of the product placement and infomercial segments of paid media. It does not, however, include highly effective branded prime-time entertainment.

Networks and brands need to get back in front of the audience that controls its own viewing experience. Some brands attempt to grow through awkward product placements with little strategic thought other than joining a ratings juggernaut, and the result elicits well-deserved groans from viewers. Brands in prime time should have a reason to be there, and if done correctly, it will help them pole vault the industry to a new level.

Tucked away in a niche market is one example that not only sets the bar for highly entertaining branded entertainment, but also redefines a brand's return on investment the very next day after its show airs. Canada's oldest retailer, Hudson Bay Co. (known to U.S. audiences as the official retailer of the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver), was looking to re-engage consumers in the niche Quebec market in Canada. Enter the branded-entertainment program "La Collection."

In 'La Collection,' 10 designers were challenged to create pieces that best symbolized the culture of Quebec through fashion.
In 'La Collection,' 10 designers were challenged to create pieces that best symbolized the culture of Quebec through fashion.
Airing on TVA during prime-time hours, each week 10 designers competed for a chance to win a one-year position as creative director for The Bay, along with the chance to design its complete fall 2009 "La Collection" clothing line. Designers were challenged to create pieces that best symbolized the culture of Quebec through fashion.

Over a five-month period, The Bay's Quebec region surpassed its sales plan by 8% and was the only region in the company to achieve and surpass targets. Winning designs seen on the show were available in Bay stores across the province the next day; 70% of the collection sold out in Bay stores within seven days, and it completely sold out within 30 days.

The most popular item in the collection was a black dress that sold out in five hours.

It's no wonder The Bay is once again returning as the lead sponsor for a second season. "La Collection" is using branded entertainment to begin as the launching pad for a true 360-degree marketing program with the return on investment to back it up.

This is how:

Authenticity and transparency
Ratings keep shows on air, but sales keep brands in shows. Will a viewer buy a Ford Escape and a Coke after watching "American Idol"? A deeper connection comes from seeing a brand used in its natural element as it would in real life. This is what allows the viewer to better relate to a brand, and when a viewer relates, ratings and sales increase.

Winning designs seen on 'La Collection' were available in Bay stores across the province.
Winning designs seen on 'La Collection' were available in Bay stores across the province.
Brands need to be integrated authentically, and the best way to do this is through story lines. This is where product placement fails. Viewers are too smart to think a TV personality or character is actually drinking a soda with the logo positioned perfectly for the camera as they take a sip. Audiences are savvy and, when it comes to branded entertainment, they expect broadcasters and brands to recognize that. Otherwise the audience feels duped and will likely tune out.

Taking advantage of retail space
Don't forget that the majority of purchases are made in the store itself. There is no advantage to branded entertainment if it does not drive sales. Complement the strategy with a strong in-store marketing program to continue the on-screen experience. Online retail space can also be created with custom landing pages and promotions.

Support with advertising
Commercials during prime-time programming may not have the impact they once did, but, combined with a program built around that same brand, they provide another layer of messaging and direct consumers into the retail store.

Go social
Branded entertainment provides the perfect vehicle for total social media integration, which can lead to an increase in viewers and customers. And when it comes to social media, transparency and letting consumers talk about the brand -- and not the brand talking to consumers -- is key. The rules that apply to brand integration on TV apply to the web as well.

Ratings hits and sold-out products are branded entertainment's perfect marriage. By embracing a smarter model, the industry's $26 billion will seem like chump change.

John Hall is CEO of Gone in 30 Entertainment. Founded in 2004, Gone in 30 is the first branded-entertainment company of its kind in Canada. Gone in 30 Entertainment developed and co-produced La Collection as well as other branded entertainment shows that have aired on networks such as Fox, Fox Sports Net, MSN, TVA and the SPEED Channel. The company has worked with brands that include L'Oreal, Maybelline, Garnier, HBC, Westin Hotels and Resorts, Smart and MasterCard.
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