|The integrations in My Network TV's telenovelas were the perfect example of what not to do when it comes to product placement or branded entertainment.
If any trends emerged during the second half of the year, it's that marketers are willing to take bigger risks, putting more dollars behind pricey entertainment projects that they're producing and even distributing themselves. The projects may not always work or find an audience, but the brands have to be commended for making the move. Elsewhere, marketers -- especially automakers -- are placing even bigger bets on using movies to build awareness for their brands, and not necessarily to promote one specific vehicle. You see that with General Motors and Dodge's involvement with two major upcoming summer tentpoles. The message: Branded entertainment is no longer an afterthought. It's now a major part of a marketer's media spend.
But for more details, here are our five best and worst branded-entertainment deals for the second half of 2006.
THE FIVE BEST
1. Sony Pictures' "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby"
The deal: Sony Pictures wallpapered the Will Ferrell comedy "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" with marketers, many of whom already have long-standing connections with Nascar, which co-produced the movie. There were 10 promotional partners, including Sprint Nextel, Wonder Bread, Coca-Cola's Powerade and Goodyear, which helped market the tongue-in-cheek racing flick.
Why we liked it: Filmmakers and the studio worked closely with Nascar to show off the sport in an over-the-top way that still managed to not offend the sport's loyalists. Sponsors had input in how their brands would be integrated but didn't control the creative decision-making. The movie, in the end, was a successful satire that boosted every brand associated with it. Mr. Ferrell, who has balked at working with marketers in the past, went out of his way to cooperate, even appearing in some partner ad campaigns, sweepstakes and events. He also showed up at the "MTV Movie Awards" as the dense-but-lovable Ricky Bobby, who wears a Wonder Bread-emblazoned jumpsuit.
Though all the marketers involved reported being happy with their participation, Wonder Bread might have been the biggest winner. The Interstate Bakeries Corp. brand, which has been in bankruptcy since 2004, did not pay to be embedded into the movie and isn't an official Nascar sponsor. But the Wonder Bread logo appeared clear and in focus for 11 minutes, 32 seconds during the film, giving it $4.3 million in exposure, according to sponsorship measurement firm Joyce Julius & Associates. And that was just the value for the opening weekend of the movie when it earned a better-than-expected $47 million, eventually making $148.2 million domestically. That also doesn't count the brand's exposure on DVD, which topped the sales and rental charts when it was released in mid-December.
The deal: Anheuser-Busch is taking an unprecedented step by launching a 24-hour internet-based TV network after this year's Super Bowl, diverting money away from traditional TV advertising in order to fund the project.
Why we liked it: Yeah, we know that it hasn't launched yet, but Bud.TV helps prove that branded entertainment is no longer an afterthought for marketers. Chalk up the No. 1 brewer in the U.S. as another major advertiser willing to finance its own entertainment content and distribute it directly to consumers. A-B will make Bud.TV the largest piece of an online budget that makes up 10% of A-B's $607 million media war chest. Plans call for seven or eight channels of entertainment content that will be created by its own team, its ad agencies, its Hollywood partners and consumers. A-B, in aiming at 21- to 27-year-old web heads, will work with former "Saturday Night Live" writer Matt Piedmont and actor-producers Vince Vaughn, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck on channels devoted to stand-up comedy, satirical newscasts, filmmaking contests and other entertainment bits. The channels also will feature sitcom-style shows, A-B ads created by consumers and links to the marketer's treasure trove of sports sponsorships. Now let's see if the content is any good.
3. General Motors' Starring Role in the Upcoming "Transformers" Movie
The deal: General Motors Corp. partnered with Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures, the producers of the $100 million-plus-budgeted live-action adaptation of the popular Hasbro toy franchise, to have its lineup of vehicles portray the film's lead characters.
Why we liked it: When GM pulled out as a major sponsor of CBS's reality show "Survivor," the automaker said it wanted to play a bigger role in the entertainment projects it appears in, no longer satisfied with simply giving away its cars and trucks. GM wants the vehicles to be central to the plot or serve as characters. You'll only have to watch a couple minutes of next summer's "Transformers," which opens in theaters July 4, to see what that means. In the movie, GM's Chevrolet, Pontiac, Hummer and GMC brands are prominently featured as ordinary vehicles that transform into giant two-legged, gun-toting talking robots. Of course, they play the heroes. In addition to spending marketing dollars around the film, GM will also use the movie to show how the brand is "transforming" into a company with better products.
4. Dodge Builds the Fantasticar
The deal: Dodge has paid several million dollars and committed more than $10 million in additional marketing dollars to brand the Fantasticar, the four-passenger vehicle that superheroes Mr. Fantastic, the Human Torch, the Invisible Woman and Thing fly around in as they save the day in May's "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer," from 20th Century Fox.
Why we liked it: Dodge beat out other interested automakers, including Audi, Ford and Volvo, to become one of the only automakers to ever have its brand emblazoned on a superhero's primary mode of transportation. The Batmobile has long remained unbranded. Spider-Man and Superman don't drive anything. The X-Men rely primarily on a jet. The Fantasticar, a long-time favorite for fans of the Fantastic Four comic books, didn't appear in the first film in 2005, so it will certainly stand out in the sequel. Dodge elements appear in the final design, such as its signature grill and company logos on the front end and on seats. Dodge is also written on the hood. It took 10 months to design and build the car.
5. Snickers' "Instant Def" Webisodes
The deal: Masterfoods USA's Snickers brand launched a five-webisode series called "Instant Def" this past summer starring the four members of the music act Black Eyed Peas. In the series, Fergie, Taboo, Will.i.am and Apl.de.ap work at a Snickers factory but also transform into hip-hop superheroes.
Why we liked it: Again, a marketer decided to sidestep traditional media in order to nab young consumers. Snickers, no spring chicken at 76 years old, reached out to teens and young adults with the web series that was part feature film, part video game and part comic book. It starred the chart-topping Black Eyed Peas and was set to theme music created by hotshot performer/producer Will.i.am. The project deftly made the connection, which already existed, between the candy brand and the hip-hop generation. The marketer and its ad agencies promoted "Instant Def" with a TV spot on MTV and other Viacom properties as well as with print ads in Teen People and Blender. Content from the site was distributed to other young-skewing online outlets. All of this helped the series average 12,000 unique visitors a day and consumers spent on average more than five minutes to watch the shorts and poke around the brand-built experience. What's even better, it sold more candy bars: "Instant Def" is credited with helping grow Snickers consumption by 4.8% in the 12-week period ended Aug. 13 vs. a year ago. Convenience-store sales, mostly attributed to young shoppers, jumped 11.6%.
|The integrations in My Network TV's telenovelas were the perfect example of what not to do when it comes to product placement or branded entertainment.
THE FIVE WORST
1. My Network TV's Telenovelas
The deal: My Network TV this fall launched English versions of Spanish-language telenovelas with a level of brand integration rarely seen in scripted programming outside Latin America. Marketers such as Maybelline New York and Garnier Fructis landed prominent airtime for their products and logos on the News Corp.-owned network.
Why we didn't like it: In theory, we should: Network executives worked with the shows' writing staffs to incorporate ad partners into the soapy melodramas in ways that made sense to the stories. For example, health and beauty products were embedded into "Fashion House." Marketers and their agencies had ample opportunity to review the show's scripts and tweak how the brands were portrayed without controlling the content. The network also created interstitials and commercials-within-commercials that promoted both the brands and the prime-time soap. Marketers were thrilled. The problem: The integrations were the perfect example of what not to do when it comes to product placement or branded entertainment. The integrations were blatant and in your face. Consider a scene in which two girlfriends chat and one puts lipstick on the other: "What color's that? It's cute," one says. "It's Maybelline New York Shiny-licious lip gloss," the other answers. "You know men can't resist shiny lips." That formula doesn't seem to offend the core fans of the original Spanish-language shows, but it just doesn't translate to the U.S., where such integrations could seriously turn off viewers. Had they even tuned in. Audiences were very slow to respond to "Fashion House." It attracted about 650,000 viewers in the key 18-49 demo, which is minuscule, compared to the 8 million to 10 million people who watch TV's most popular shows.
2. Passing on the Video Game
The deal: At a time when product placement in video games is all the rage, marketers that have spent millions to align themselves with popular TV shows have opted out of the series' ancillary properties, including video games. In "Desperate Housewives," the women of Wisteria Lane drive Nissans, Volvos, Aston Martins and have shilled for Buick. But in the video-game version of the hit ABC drama, Chrysler is the carmaker of choice. Elsewhere, computer-generated versions of Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson don't sip from Coca-Cola cups in an upcoming "American Idol" game, and Jack Bauer doesn't thwart threats from behind the wheel of a Ford or Toyota in "24: The Game." In addition, brands are completely absent from the interactive version of "The Apprentice." Other games have integrated brands that aren't featured in the shows at all.
Why we didn't like it: It could prove to be a major missed opportunity for advertisers looking for new ways to connect with the much-sought-after 18- to 35-year-olds who are spending more time playing their PlayStations, Xboxes and PCs than watching their TVs. There are more than 132 million teen and adult gamers in the U.S., according to Boston research firm Yankee Group. And it's not unusual for them to spend more than 30 to 40 hours on a game. That's a lot of interaction with products that isn't happening if the brands aren't onscreen.
3. Brawny Academy
The deal: This summer, Georgia-Pacific's Brawny line of paper towels launched "Brawny Academy," a web-based reality series that has become the brand's primary marketing vehicle this year.
Why we didn't like it: Not every brand icon merits its own series. And while the Brawny Man may be a major brand icon, as a rugged, flannel-wearing spokesman he's still struggling to become a star. In the webisodes, which range from 9 to 13 minutes in length, a strong-yet-gentle Brawny Man, played by an ironic, deadpan, flannel-clad actor, takes eight men chosen for their laziness, insensitivity and shortcomings in the manly arts to a backwoods camp for rehab. But few people are logging on to watch the show. Despite heavy promotion around the project, including TV spots, data reported by Amazon's Alexa in September reported a total audience of around 150,000 since the series' launch in June -- and that total doesn't subtract any repeat visitors and makes the audience number for "Brawny Academy" considerably smaller than a magazine ad or thinly viewed cable program. However, there is a bright side: The series is still making inroads with the women Brawny was targeting. Call-center contacts and e-mails related to "Brawny Academy" are 233% ahead of those generated by G-P's Angel Soft "Bathroom Moments" campaign in 2005, and the show is also moving the needle on purchase intent (up 14%) and brand affinity among women who have seen it far more than any marketing campaign G-P has ever measured.
4. Burton Snowboards Wipes Out With "For Right or Wrong"
The deal: Burton Snowboards teamed up with Mandalay Sports Action Entertainment to produce a full-length snowboarding documentary, "For Right or Wrong," that Burton hoped would find a broad audience in the same way the skateboarding movie "Dogtown and Z-Boys" or surfing films "Riding Giants" and "Step Into Liquid" did and help drive interest in snowboarding and expand the business.
Why we didn't like it: The movie (with a budget of around $5 million) just doesn't play broadly enough. It's still heavily targeted at the core snowboarding community and will have a tough time appealing to anyone else. Its producers wanted to give audiences a behind-the-scenes look at what happens on and off the mountain to show why the three individuals highlighted in the documentary love the sport so much. It's an interesting idea that unfortunately stumbles in its execution, becoming a surprising exercise in meandering filmmaking that takes too much of a laid-back approach to telling the stories of the snowboarders featured, if it tells any stories at all.
It's almost as if the filmmakers needed to drink more Adrenaline from Sobe, one of the project's many marketing partners. For example, in its account of Shaun White's efforts to compete in the 2006 Winter Olympics, the film manages to make the energetic, floppy-red-haired pro-snowboarding phenom almost boring. And those familiar with Mr. White know he's far from dull. Target's web series, "The Shaun White Series," was far more entertaining. And technically, the film doesn't pack the visual punch needed to fill seats. While the snowboarding in the film is impressive, you've seen it before and you've seen it better. Which is surprising, considering that Burton has made countless movies -- mostly direct-to-video movies it affectionately calls "action porn" for the back-to-back action sequences featured in them. And Mandalay is no stranger to filmmaking either, having produced movies such as "Sleepy Hollow."
5. Philip Morris' Anti-Product-Placement Campaign
The deal: This summer, Philip Morris USA launched an ad campaign in Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and other trade publications asking filmmakers not to put its products in movies. The headline read: "Please don't give our cigarette brands a part in any movie."
Why we didn't like it: People called foul immediately on this move by Big Tobacco. Since 1990, Philip Morris' policy has been to deny all requests for permission to use its brands in mainstream movies and TV shows. Major Hollywood studios have for many years curtailed their use of cigarettes in films that are aimed at general audiences and youngsters. Smoking in mainstream films has become unfashionable, period. Edgier movies such as art-house and adult-targeted fare have continued to use cigarettes as props, and they don't need to ask permission to do so. Smokes are a cheap commodity easily bought for a film production, unlike big-ticket items where a marketer handing over the product for placement needs to be consulted. So why did the company launch a print ad campaign 16 years after that fact? Was it just grandstanding? The marketer said that after discussions with "relevant stakeholders" it decided the campaign was an effective way to raise awareness of the policy. The problem is it has no teeth. There's no penalty attached. To us, it seems like a smoke screen and nothing more.