/// The Evolution Of Branded Entertainment (Forbes)

August 25, 2011  |  Blog

I’m feeling old. Pearl Jam is now classic rock. Jeter’s got his 3,000thhit. And it’s already been 10 years since the beginning of the branded-entertainment revival that launched in 2001 with “The Hire” for bmwfilms.com.

With “The Hire,” Fallon and Anonymous Content fused broadband storytelling with technology and big Hollywood production values to create the series of acclaimed short films. Soon after, a flurry of other branded-entertainment properties were born, both online and for TV, like Reebok’s “Terry Tate: Office Linebacker,” Axe “Gamekillers” and Nike“Battlegrounds.”

Programs like these validated the idea that advertisers can produce original entertainment and own their audience, rather than lease them.

Today, though, the practice of branded entertainment has since evolved to become a mixture of product placement (like Coke on “American Idol”), media integration deals (watch any episode of “Top Chef”) and digital bits, many with celebrities reinventing themselves through the Web (I hear Will Arnett and Jason Bateman have made a few shows).

Too often, the actual entertainment value becomes secondary to making the deal or being a one-off tactic within the campaign. As a result, it all ends up getting categorized with general terms like “activation” or the dreaded buzzword “content.”

Another major point of difference these 10 years later is the use of social media and mobile technology to amplify everything we make, and in turn, build brands. (Imagine BMW Films with augmented reality. And what would the “Terry Tate” Facebook app be like?)

It begs the question, with the ongoing convergence of media, technology and brand narratives, what should the next evolution of branded entertainment be? How can it be better than just being “content?” To make the next generation of branded entertainment more impactful, we need to reverse it. Instead of branded entertainment, we need to focus on makingentertainment brands.

We know brands must be engaging and amplify the brand promise. They must also sell the product, build brand equity, create differentiation and produce value by generating demand and securing future earnings for the business. However, these principles don’t just apply to brands; they also apply to everything from Lady Gaga to “The Biggest Loser.”

Entertainment brands, better known as a franchise, are what everyone wants in Hollywood. They are also what advertising agencies want—namely for our ideas, content and campaigns to drive revenue and make our clients famous in the process. If Disney can produce entertainment that sells food, clothing or cruise ships, then Nestlé, Macy’s and Royal Caribbean—some of our clients—can produce entertainment that sells food, clothing or cruise ships.

I spend a lot of time with brands developing ideas to satisfy business needs through entertainment. My task is simple: Produce a story that resonates with consumers and creates an emotional connection to the brand. Work with premium talent and production partners that will reach the desired audience. Distribute the content via paid, earned and owned media, integrating the story and character into traditional marketing. And build programs that extend the story through merchandise and technology.

The idea being that our clients will then get the chance to evaluate a property and how to make it better for season two, instead of needing to move on to something new.

Many brands use owned media, or work with celebrities. But marketers like Vans with the Warped Tour, or P&G with the People’s Choice Awards, see marketing as an investment in developing an audience to help build their own entertainment brands and loyalty for their products.

Pitch any TV executive an idea for a show, and no matter how good that idea for a pilot episode might be, the first question is, can the show sustain itself into seasons two, three and beyond? Marketers should apply the same principle. How will the idea scale to become an entertainment brand?

And before the snarky remarks fill up the comments section for this column, yes, I know: Budgets and KPIs always impact what we can make. But that doesn’t mean you can’t approach your next Web video about your product with the same care as Bravo or DreamWorks. Develop your project to be an entertainment brand rather than worrying about producing branded entertainment—and you just might hit on a property that people will be waxing nostalgic about 10 years later.

By Mike Wiese


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