LOS ANGELES -- It used to be easy to pick on the producers and deal makers of branded entertainment.
That's because they would get marketers to throw themselves into virtually any project, forget to get the brand to market around the property and call it a day. Middlemen would get advertisers to spend millions on one deal, but only several thousand on another. Content would get produced, but nobody would ever get told it existed. Basically, there were stumbles, fumbles and just all out bad deal making.
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But if 2006 proved anything, it's that there's little to hate when it comes to branded entertainment. Marketers are partnering with the right properties, promotions around projects are now standard and the content has gotten more creative.
In other words, the players in the branded-entertainment space are getting smarter.
That's not to say that there still aren't lessons to be learned each year from the deals that get made. And Madison & Vine has compiled 10 strategies you should have gleaned in 2006:
Want to tie-in with a hit reality show? Go to Bravo: With "Queer Eye," "Project Runway," "Blow Out," "Work Out" and "Top Chef" under its belt, Bravo has proved it knows what it's doing when it comes to developing reality concepts that can attract a sizable audience and become franchises while lending themselves well to branded integrations. Marketers either sponsor the entire season or back individual tasks. But the difference between the shows and reality fare on other networks is that the integrations actually make sense. "Top Design," in which interior designers go head to head, and hair-style-themed "Shear Genius" are up next, and they each have a stable of brands on board.
Turn your website into your own TV network: There's no reason a brand shouldn't get into the content-creation game anymore -- especially if the content is only for its website. The audience is certainly there now, looking for compelling video to watch. Just look at the millions of people checking out random YouTube videos of cats pounding away on Apple laptops. According to Nielsen/NetRatings, more than 100 million people, as of November 2006, connect to the web via broadband from their homes -- that figure represents 78% of the country. And 90% of workplaces have broadband connections. That usage, and the appeal of the content itself, helped make Amazon.com's weekly web talk show "Fish Bowl," hosted by Bill Maher, a hit with consumers last year.
Put your branded entertainment on iTunes: Starbucks last year launched Starbucks Entertainment on Apple's iTunes service as a way to sell its music to consumers. Nike has also launched branded song selections on the service. And why not? The major TV networks have put their shows on iTunes and are generating millions of dollars in revenue as a result. To date, iTunes has sold more than 2 billion songs (roughly 5 million songs a day), 50 million TV shows and 1.3 million movies. But brands have remained largely absent from the site, representing a major missed opportunity to recoup some of the marketing dollars they're spending to produce branded-entertainment projects such as short films or web series.
Actually, put your branded entertainment everywhere: If you're spending a considerable amount of money to produce branded entertainment, make sure that it gets seen by everyone. Marketers are making the mistake of simply posting their productions on their corporate websites and hoping that word-of-mouth will attract viewers. That may have worked if you were BMW Films, but that strategy is wishful thinking these days. Post your entertainment on your website, on iTunes, YouTube, MySpace, on Xbox Live; syndicate it to Yahoo, Google, MSN or AOL.com; play it on screens in your stores or restaurants, on TV, on cellphones, in theaters before movies, on the in-flight entertainment systems on airlines. Just make sure people can see what you thought was cool enough for them to want to watch.
If you're not in a video game, you should be. Study after study says that gamers don't mind seeing a brand in the games they're playing and that it actually adds to the realism of the gameplay. Examples: Cars should be real cars. Characters should be wearing real clothes with logos. Stadiums should have real billboards. And the game version of TV shows should have the same brands that appear in the series. If they don't, gamers will notice. It's also a bad move on the part of the marketer, considering that video-game sales rose to $6.5 billion in 2006, according to industry tracker NPD Group.
If you're attached to a hit property, don't let go: The promotional partners around Fox's "American Idol" know a good thing when they see it. After five seasons, Coca-Cola Co., Ford Motor Co. and Cingular Wireless are all back for another outing, making sure that rivals can't buy their way into the show that trounces its competition each week. The $30 million to $50 million the brands pay is worth it to them. The start of the new season, Jan. 16, kicked off with a massive 37.3 million viewers, besting its premiere a year ago by 5%. Similarly, Toyota is sticking with ratings reliable "24," 24 Hour Fitness took a gamble and won with "The Biggest Loser" and isn't showing signs of quitting anytime soon, and Grey Goose vodka is now into its third season of the Sundance Channel's "Iconoclasts," a show the brand co-produces.
Nothing is off-limits anymore: Animated films aimed at young audiences once were brand-free, but Universal Pictures' "Curious George" featured a Volkswagen and Dole fruit. Last year, product placement in comic books also took off, with automakers such as Mazda, Pontiac, Dodge and Nike landing prime placements in superhero sagas. That means brands are everywhere -- movies, TV shows, books and video games, web series, social-networking sites, mobile-phone series, music, and live events. Ironically, they're all trying to rise above the clutter of traditional advertising, but they're not realizing they're creating even more clutter as they adopt entertainment as a nontraditional marketing tool.
Branded entertainment can make a star out of pretty much anything: Your product doesn't have to be the newest car or the flashiest phone. Hollywood made big-screen stars out of Wonder Bread and Timex in Sony's "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" and "Stranger than Fiction," respectively, by putting the brands front and center, working them into the plots and jointly creating smart promotional campaigns around the films. As a result, Wonder Bread sales went up, and Timex is closer to being a company that actually makes cool-looking watches.
Enough with the documentaries: Mountain Dew and Burton Snowboards spent millions to produce feature-length documentaries about snowboarding. Ford Motor Co., Audi, Southern Comfort and Fireman's Fund Insurance Co., among other marketers, have created documentary films or series for their dot-coms or for distribution on TV. Granted, some are actually good. But enough already. We get it: You're a real brand that cares about real people (individuals you hope will give your brand a face). But some of these documentaries are downers. And remember, customers also like being entertained. If they're happy, they spend more money. Sure, coming up with a scripted concept can be difficult, but isn't that what Hollywood's stable of writers are for? Isn't that one of the advantages of turning to Hollywood in the first place?
Shut up, you won't be getting any money: Hollywood, quit your bitchin.' Trade organizations such as the Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild have been making a ton of noise about the process of embedding marketers into TV shows. Writers and talent want a voice in the process and, naturally, a cut of what the brands pay to get into the shows. The demands make sense, business-wise. But the guilds need to understand that no one's getting rich off of the deals. If anything, the marketers' involvement in the shows are keeping the shows on the air, helping to pay for the productions and elements in the series, such as music. So far, the complaints are falling on deaf ears. Meetings between both sides aren't taking place.