| by Branded Entertainment

Learning the Landscape Part I

The definitive guide to brand integrationThe definitive guide to brand integration

Success in brand integration demands a greater level of sophistication — and expectation. Whether in entertainment or the influencer space,  the days of simply plopping in a product are long gone. In its place is  an ecosystem that is exciting, and highly effective for brands, it’s where  consumers’ eyeballs are and is more measurable than ever.

As brand integration sees the spotlight  get brighter and hotter, one of the key considerations is determining the best first  steps in taking advantage of this dynamic,  growing marketing space.

Whether it’s in traditional Hollywood-style  entertainment or the continually emerging  influencer space, one of the biggest issues that  brands can face is a version of “shiny object  syndrome.”

“One of the most important things is to look at  content objectively and not subjectively,” says Erin  Schmidt, executive vice president, global client  services at BEN. “We all know the content that we  like to watch, but that doesn't mean that’s where  you’ll find the right consumers for your brand.”

Indeed, even as shows like Stranger Things,  Billions and House of Cards, or “hot” influencers  like Liza Koshy, garner substantial attention,  discipline in selecting who to work with is  paramount. As entertainment and influencers  work to capture culture and take advantage of  today’s zeitgeist, marketers are wise to learn  about where their own brand can fit in well.

“Creators are experts at developing the exact  content that people want to tune into and watch,  whether that’s on TV, streaming or through social  channels with influencers,” notes Schmidt. “With  our technology, we can identify what content best  fits a marketer’s brand and objectives, and we  help build their knowledge base.”

Another critical component in preparation is  the understanding that successful results come  from a hybrid campaign approach that is fully  optimized and built for the long-term, whether  it’s with scripted or unscripted entertainment or  influencers.

Zillow is a particularly germane example. Early  on in their successful integration program, the brand experimented with a range of executions  including verbal mentions (a character saying the  brand name), visuals (showing the brand in the  content) and verbal/visual combinations (both).

“We researched the impact of each execution,”  says Schmidt. “What we learned is that the verbal  mention was as impactful as the verbal/visual  combo and that allowed us to work with the  budget more effectively.”

The continual optimization of the budget is  not something that can necessarily be done  in the short-term or as a one-off. Preparing for  that contingency is important for brands to  understand up front.

“To deliver multiple integrations, we look  to capitalize on 6 to 12 month periods,” notes Schmidt. “This mitigates any risk and also shows  the creator community, especially in Hollywood,  that a brand is committed, which always leads to  incredible opportunities.”

Partnership and support in the entertainment  and influencer space can take many forms — from  in-kind to direct financial support. Done in an  authentic way, allowing creative talent to work  their magic can yield substantial dividends.

Brands like Microsoft, General Motors and  beverage brand Proximo are three long-term  BEN and entertainment industry brands who  have seen great success through expanding  their knowledge base. Over the years, they  have planned for the long-term, taken a hybrid approach and allowed the talent to do what they do best.

“These, and other brands, are synonymous  within entertainment,” says Schmidt. “People  know they support the community and everyone  from producers to writers wants to work with  them because they are helping to enhance their  product and output.”



Though integration may be perceived as an  area where brands can dabble, the fact is  that marketers see a greater, more sustained  benefit when looking longer-term. Like most practices in marketing, the misperception may  be based on what was done in the past.

“We’re all taught that campaigns are very  structured with a defined timeline and lifecycle,”  says Stephanie Dade, senior vice president of  global content and integrations at BEN. “Brand  integration has traditionally been looked at as  added value instead of a true component of the overall marketing mix and as a result, didn’t  receive the same prioritization.”

As the landscape changes, with more options  than ever and consumers continuing to avoid  ads, integration, especially taking a long-term  approach, makes more sense than ever.

“There’s risk in one-offs,” says Dade. “It may  look, on paper, like it aligns with a campaign or  launch. But there’s a great deal of research that  points to the value of frequency, seeing a product  multiple times over the course of a season. The  product needs to be seen as a part of the story,  not as a distraction from it.”

Indeed, if a brand looks to shoehorn themselves  into content, especially entertainment, that lack of  authenticity can stick out — and not necessarily in  the best way.

When done right, in a true long-term  partnership, brands stand to benefit due to  building trust with creators, who may be more  willing to feature products in storylines more  often. Even in unscripted content, long-term  success has been evident in many places.

“When brands are considering integrations,  they need to look for producers who will be brand  partners,” says Jordan Passon, director, product  placement and integrations at Microsoft. “Finding  partners that really believe brands should be in  service to the storytelling, and not the other way  around.”

“I think most people had a different view of Ford after they partnered with American Idol,”  adds Dade. “It was a good example of a brand  taking a risk early and then building a long-term  partnership.”

Additionally, brands that offer expertise to a  production can often build a critical rapport that  results in greater opportunities. One of the more  prominent brands that uses long-term thinking  to great effect is Microsoft. Although initially  perceived as a Hollywood outsider, a great depth of trust has been built over the years and they are  now looked to as critical partners.

“They’ve always come to the table with solutions  for the producers, directors, writers — in truth, they  actively support all of the creative community,”  notes Dade, who first worked with the brand on Smallville during her time with Warner Bros  Television and helped introduce Surface tablets  on Grey’s Anatomy, contemporizing Seattle  Grace’s characters who used to carry binders.

A long-term relationship has also borne  substantial fruit for seven seasons on the CBS  show Hawaii Five-O. Producers rely on the brand  to not only provide product and software for the characters to use on-screen but also the  most accurate and innovative features that can  drive a more authentic and powerful storyline.  Conversely, Microsoft supports both in-show and  out-of-show activations, further extending the  relationship.

“The Five-O team meets with the brand every  season to immerse themselves in the latest and  greatest that Microsoft has to offer – including  at times, venturing to Seattle to experience the  campus and meet the technologists who are  driving the innovation and pushing boundaries.  “They want to learn as much as they can so that  they are able to showcase the products in the most innovative and authentic way possible while  at the same time delivering a great episodic story  for their audience” notes Dade. “I think this is an  excellent illustration of what a successful long-  term relationship looks like.”



When brands begin their integration journey in entertainment and the influencer  spaces, preparation demands a blueprint that is clearly defined, yet affords a level of flexibility. With thousands of content options  and opportunities available to a brand, developing the right approach to content  can help build substantial success.

Up front, however, the strength of any long-  standing relationship in the space demands a clear understanding of what success to the  brand looks like.

“It’s key for us to understand what success  looks like to a brand,” says Erin Schmidt, executive vice president, global client services  at BEN. “But we also have to understand what it  doesn’t look like. What doesn’t work for a CMO  is just as important to know.” Establishing parameters also helps in  determining the best brand/opportunity  match. Taking it one step further, the continually developing technology and measurement standards at BEN helps improve  the understanding of key categories, while leveraging long-standing relationships all in  service to a brand’s KPIs.

“It’s science, then art, then back to science,”  notes Schmidt. “There’s matching, then letting  the creatives bring it all beautifully to life, then back to the science so that it all can be  measured and optimized to meet a brand’s  objectives across platforms whether it’s YouTube, film, television or influencers.”

In developing a content plan, two areas that demand attention, like any marketing approach,  are the options available and the associated risks. This is where BEN’s experience, process,  technology and understanding of brand integration come into play.

“It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content or influencers,” says Schmidt.  “Marketers use our technology platform and put  a great deal of trust in us to give them the best  recommendations. Having deep relationships with Hollywood producers, for example, allows  us to find the right opportunities to meet the brand’s objectives. The bottom line is that we  always have the brand’s best interest in mind.”

In terms of alignment, in building a content  plan, Schmidt advises brands to “not overthink  it.”

“You might think Modern Family is the best  thing that could happen for your brand,” she says. “But if there isn’t a scripted moment that’s  the right fit for you, it could be highly counter-  productive — and there are thousands of other  shows that may provide a better opportunity to  align.”

A good example of timing and alignment in  action is one of BEN’s newer clients, Prego. The  brand was looking to time their integration in the key areas of fall and winter. Additionally, up front, the brand said that their main KPI was  the “family meal moment,” where characters were enjoying a meal together, showing the  authenticity of the brand.

The brand approved a long list of opportunities and BEN delivered “family meal  moments” by finding producers that were most  passionate. “The producers of Scorpion loved  Prego and found a moment in the script that worked,” said Schmidt. The overall campaign  includes integrations on Scorpion, Mom, American Housewife and The Big Bang Theory,  long a highly-rated program.

“It’s a great campaign that aligned perfectly  with the brand’s KPIs,” notes Schmidt. “We were  able to deliver excellent results based on a client aligning with our systems and processes.”

Consumers continue to avoid ads and brands can’t afford to be left behind. Additionally, streaming content has moved the advertising goalposts. The Definitive Guide to Brand Integration gives brands the upper hand on making a real, tangible impact. Learn what makes integration effective, how measurement continues to evolve, the influencer space and more. Download this critical intelligence today. 

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