Integrate More Thoroughly; Make Innovation Your Mantra

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LOS ANGELES -- Despite years of product placements, sponsorships and the creation of brand-backed programming, the business of branded entertainment is one whose players are still trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. It's thriving more than ever, with companies actively experimenting -- some succeeding, some failing. At a time when traditional ad formats, especially spots on television, are proving less effective, marketers are being forced to seek out non-traditional ways to connect with consumers and spend their ad dollars. But where? And how? To help, Madison & Vine has compiled the 10 lessons marketers should have learned in 2005, when it comes to branded entertainment:

Photo: AP
Mark Burnett, the guru of branded entertainment, has been a good demonstration of the pioneering nature of the business this year. His 'Survivor' franchise has done well while the 'Contender' and 'Apprentice' have done less so.

1. Integrate More Thoroughly: It isn't enough to just place your product in a movie or TV show anymore. There are just too many other marketers doing the same thing. So to keep from getting lost in the clutter, and give a brand more bang for their branded entertainment buck, companies must launch marketing and promotional campaigns around their involvement with entertainment programming. That could come in the form of consumer promotions, themed commercials, in-store messaging, print, radio or Web sites. For example, General Motors' Pontiac division scored by doing just that with its sponsorship of a task in NBC's "The Apprentice." After showing off its new Solstice roadster in the show, the company sent viewers to a Web site and then dealerships to sign up to purchase the car. It quickly sold out. Sears has also capitalized on its involvement with ABC's feel-good hit "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" through in-store signage and ads featuring host Ty Pennington.

2. Don't Ignore Videogames: Advertising in videogames may not be new, but it's certainly increased over the past year, with a number of publishers beefing up their in-house sales staffs to place more products in their titles, or companies like Massive, promoting their networks to integrate advertisers within games. But does it work? More studies say it does, helping drive awareness and recall for brands, and even helping change consumers' opinions of a marketer or specific product. Although critics have said ads detract from gameplay, the opposite has proved to be true. Study participants say that when a product is relevant to the game, the advertising can actually enhance it and make the environments feel more real. The value of videogames should only increase now that systems like Microsoft's Xbox 360 are aggressively trying to make it easier for marketers to target gamers.

3. Insist on Your Product's Visibility: Marketers are spending heavily to gain exposure through integrations in reality shows, but are forgetting to make sure that their products are actually seen or demonstrated. Take Dairy Queen's appearance on "The Apprentice," for example. The company sponsored a task in the reality series to promote its iconic Blizzard product, but never actually showed the product or even a Dairy Queen store, thus reducing the potential impact of the marketer's appearance in the show.

4. Broker Across-the-Board Tie-ins: If your brand is spending millions to promote a movie, make sure that you're integrated throughout all of the film's products. Samsung did just that with 20th Century Fox's "Fantastic Four," with the electronics maker prominently appearing not only in several scenes of the comic book adaptation, but also in the film's videogame, as well. The DVD for the film was just released.

5. Don't Hesitate to Say Yes to a Good Idea: When Bally Total Fitness balked at becoming the official sponsor of NBC's reality series "The Biggest Loser," 24 Hour Total Fitness Worldwide stepped in and capitalized on Bally's hesitation. The show has taken off in the ratings in its first two seasons. On screen, 24 Hour Fitness is ubiquitous, getting extended face time during pivotal competition challenges between its contestants. On set, it built a custom gym that features branded merchandise and logos. Its trainers are also on hand. Not bad for a brand that isn't national. Its 330 gyms are located west of the Mississippi -- so its media plan focuses on regional spot TV buys, print, Internet and direct marketing.

6. Make Sure Your Messages are Seen : Producing a Web series is one thing. Making sure consumers can see it is another -- and worth so much more if they do. Some brands prefer consumers to discover their programming through word-of-mouth or guerilla marketing. But what's the point if no one ever truly discovers it? This summer, Pepsi produced the innovative reality series "100 Concerts in 100 Days," that appeared on Yahoo! Music. But there was little advertising to get audiences to watch it. The same is true for companies like Target, who in the past got creative and produced a reality Web series around skateboarder Shaun White, but then failed to let consumers know it was even made. On the other hand, Unilever's Axe line pushed hard to get its series of comedic Web shorts starring Evan and Gareth noticed. The online effort has been viewed by 3 million people.

7. Stay Innovative: If your brand has earned a reputation for breaking new ground in the branded entertainment space, it can be risky to just leave it entirely. Chalk up BMW as an example. After setting the bar with its short film series "The Hire" and encouraging rivals to follow suit with their own entertainment projects, the automaker has seemingly given up on branded entertainment -- and as a result, its coveted cool image with consumers. BMW's cars are no longer the shiny wheels of heroes but the clich├ęd vehicle of choice for villains whose lives end in fiery crashes. The decision to stay in the creative dark has now opened the doors for such rivals as Audi to take over with their own innovative Web series and prominent product placements in movies and on TV.

8. Understand Your Brand's Identity: Several companies have made the successful leap into branded entertainment by teaming up with the right projects that fit their brand. Starbucks has connected with consumers through music, and Mountain Dew recently produced the snowboarding documentary "First Descent," that ties in to its long association with extreme sports. The Chrysler Group has even developed the concept of "brandcasting" to determine how its Chryslers, Jeeps and Dodge vehicles should be placed in movies and TV shows. On the other hand, several companies aren't being as careful. Home Depot didn't belong in Mark Burnett's boxing reality series "The Contender." And American Eagle failed to connect with the young consumers that shop at its stores when it appeared on "The Apprentice."

9. Re-evaluate Sundance: The indie film festival has become so overrun with brands, few marketers are now able to stand out in the crowd in Park City, Utah. Too many sponsored lodges, lounges, premieres and parties are confusing attendees to the point where this year's most memorable marketer was Mr. Coffee, who gave away coffee makers to celebrities and generated so much exposure that it upstaged brands such as Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, American Express, Intel and Delta Airlines, among many others. Just take a look at Volkswagen. The automaker has served as the event's official automaker for several years, but General Motors always manages to steal way the German company's thunder by dispatching a fleet of GMC Yukons and Cadillac Escalades, or other models, to shuttle around filmmakers.

10. Remember You are a Pioneer: Despite attempts by Nielsen Media Research, IAG Research and TNS Media Intelligence to corner the market to measure branded entertainment for advertisers, their methods still don't put a definitive dollar figure on the impact of brand-backed projects. One may count all visual and audio references of a product in a program, while another may measure brand recall. The result: confusion over which service may be more valuable. What's more, there may never be a way to evaluate branded entertainment, considering the many different forms it can come in-from TV and film, to music and videogames, as well as short-form programming on the Internet or on cell phones. Either way, the lack of a solid, industry wide standard and method for accurately measuring the impact of integrations or product placements continues to hold back marketers that are considering investing in branded entertainment.
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