| by Branded Entertainment

Learning the Landscape Part II

Like any form of marketing, brand integration has its own set of “dos”  and “don’ts.” Like any form of marketing, brand integration has its own set of “dos”

CREATIVE COLLABORATION

When collaborating with talent on brand  integration across the entertainment landscape,  a key word that continues to emerge is  ‘authenticity.’ For creators and storytellers,  being authentic is critical as it avoids straying  from and compromising carefully-crafted story  arcs and character development.

But authenticity should be of critical importance  to brands as well. Stories can be enhanced or  character traits can be reinforced with a solid, well  thought out and planned integration.

“Brands don’t want to compromise their values  by being in content that doesn’t make sense,” says  Caressa Douglas, senior vice president of global  strategic partnerships at BEN. “Being inauthentic  can backfire and be considered disingenuous to  the audience. It’s disruptive to both the content and  the brand — and not in a good way.”

Creative collaboration, in large part, is built  over time and through deep relationships. It also  demands a keen understanding and trust of the  creative process, especially in Hollywood and  entertainment, whether that’s in the scripted or  unscripted space.

“It’s so fascinating to see how a brand gets  on screen,” says Pattie Falch, brand director of Heineken’s sponsorships and events. “Ultimately,  [creators] can have a different vision for the  character and the brand placement won’t work.  We’ve learned as a brand and as a team to be  flexible.”

“When we work with Jimmy Kimmel Live, for  example, we know that they will craft something  better than a brand could,” adds Douglas. “They  understand Jimmy and his audience best. That’s  why, as a brand, you want to be in that show — the writers do a great job.”

Being an insider can give brands a massive leg up in pursuing opportunity as well.

“When we’re developing projects for brands,  we know, from industry insiders, our research and sometimes gut instinct, which shows or series will be great and what won’t make sense,”  says Douglas. “It can be overwhelming with all  of the choices in content and having a resource  to navigate the landscape is helpful.”

Creators also understand the inherent value  brands can bring to a production budget, whether it’s direct or in-kind. Additionally, as it  relates to safety for a brand, long-established  creators and experts like Douglas, who has over 20 years of successful experience in brand  integration, understand where balance can be  struck. “Creators and storytellers want to do right by brands,” says Douglas. “In my career, I’ve seen that producers and productions want to continue having relationships with brands  because they want to be able to come back,  project after project, to get support. For our part, we adhere to brand safety for clients. It’s paramount.”

Making some early bets on production and  talent can yield substantial dividends as well. Though it’s enticing for brands to pursue hugely popular titles or franchises, first-run, independent or new productions can be more  cost-effective, yet powerful in the long-term.

General Motors, for example, supported  Jerry Bruckheimer’s earlier films by loaning cars. This early support has resulted in ongoing,  successful collaborations. The James Bond franchise has helped a number of brands achieve massive exposure, in part because of established relationships dating back to the franchise’s inception.

“The more the production understands the  brand, the more they will write them into the  story,” notes Douglas. “It’s important to work  with creators when they’re starting out. It can lead to some of a brand’s most valuable relationships.”

 

ENJOY THE RIDE

The scope and scale of brand integration,  especially in Hollywood, can be  overwhelming. As deals get done, there  are many requisite planning and execution steps. But a key aspect of entertainment, and  one that is sometimes forgotten, is how fun  working with some of the brightest and most  creative minds can be.

From the brand side, participating in the fast-  paced world of storytelling can be a rush.

“It’s very fun,” says Caressa Douglas, senior  vice president of global strategic partnerships  at BEN. “Especially when you get into a room of  really high-energy creatives who have an idea.”

On the other side of the creative table, there  is mutual respect and excitement about the  attributes brands offer to enhance a story. And  their participation is not lost, even among the  stars of some productions.

“I think all of our brand partners, at some  point, feel that energy,” says Erin Schmidt,  executive vice president, global client services at  BEN. “I was on the set of Scorpion for our Prego  client and [show star] Katharine McPhee came  up to me and gave me a big hug, telling me how much she loves Prego. The brand was ecstatic hearing that.”

Matt Miller, producer of the Fox TV show  Lethal Weapon, is another example of how much  creators value the relationships built with brands.

“My experience [in brand integration], has  been very good,” he says. “I’ve only had positive  experiences because I know what I’m getting  into and I want to do it. It helps me and helps the  show.”

Citing the show’s relationship with Microsoft, Miller points to the brand’s willingness to  collaborate as a major plus.

“We have a great time working with them,” he  says. “They’ll sometimes say, ‘can this character  do this?’ and we will say, ‘maybe that wouldn’t  make sense, but what if this character does it?’ And that’s almost always been sufficient  for them, or they counter-pitch and it feels collaborative when you both understand [the  goals together].”

Creativity, even in the unscripted space, is a  welcome addition, especially between brands  and content that, on paper, may not actually  make sense. This challenge can open up connections through the collaborative process.

“A good example is Skype and MasterChef,” says Tamaya Petteway, senior vice president of  brand and licensing partnerships at Endemol  Shine North America. “This show is all about cooking, but we created an integration where  the junior contestants had tablets and used Skype to phone a friend or family member for  tips and it became the hero of that challenge.”

Through the process of working with brands,  not only do producers and creators find unique opportunities, but valuable learning  experiences that help them better understand  expectations and how to work them into storylines.

“[An] integration with Target was the most educational,” says Randall Winston, a longtime  Hollywood producer with shows such as Grace & Frankie, Roseanne, Scrubs and Spin  City under his belt. “There was a lot of back and forth about the brand’s expectations and  I learned a lot about the corporate needs because it was so multi-layered.”

In the final analysis, though, bringing together  talent and brands through integration remains a special relationship that all find mutually beneficial and exciting, as Schmidt puts it, for  the long-haul.

“There’s nothing else in advertising and  marketing like it,” she says. “I love working  with brands and creators, and we’ve all worked together to deliver some of the most  meaningful integrations of all-time.”

 

BURNING QUESTIONS ANSWERED

As brands assess their marketing mix and the associated opportunities in front of them,  brand integration continues to climb up the list of considerations. For those that are  engaged in the practice of entertainment marketing, the benefits, when done well, are obvious.

According to Ricky Ray Butler, chief executive  officer of BEN, the trends in brand integration,  in both traditional entertainment and the influencer space, have sparked marketers’  curiosity.

“More brands are doing their homework to  see if integration works,” he says. “Where our  brand partners are doing well is due to the fact that they can see the data and the positive  engagement that it brings to their brand.”

That said, Butler, who started with integration  in the influencer space in the early years as founder of Plaid Social Labs, notes that there are still lingering questions from marketers who  want to fully understand integration’s value vis-  a-vis more traditional advertising and marketing.

Usually, the first question a brand marketer  asks is “how do I know this is going to work?” Indeed, the perception of brand integration has its history in smaller players. Today, a much  higher level of sophistication is a result of a marketer’s need for clarity and ROI.

“We tell brands that they need to be data-  driven and think about scale, the same way  they would think about any other marketing  tactic,” says Butler. “We’re accountable as an organization, and we’re going to give guaranteed metrics and goals for a brand’s KPIs.  The integration space is actually quite new, and  we’re one of the first to bring data science and  sophistication to the table.”

In BEN's experience, integration results are strong. On YouTube, for example, they see click-  through rates of around 3%. With Instagram, and  especially Instagram Stories, those rates average  around 11% for ongoing campaigns, well above most forms of online advertising. With  traditional TV integrations, brands have seen double digit percentage jumps in brand opinion  and consideration.

Another question that comes up from marketers is around control. While brands wish  to have a level of control, the fact is that trust  becomes critical between the brand, creator and BEN. The more trust that is built, the more  authentic the content. The more authentic the  content, the better the engagement.

“The more natural it is, the easier it is to  work into the story,” says Lesley Chilcott, Academy Award-winning documentarian for An Inconvenient Truth. “The toughest things for  brands to understand is that their brand can’t be front-and-center because the audience trusts  the story less. If it’s integrated seamlessly, the audience is being entertained.”

“There is a difference between organic integration and being invisible. It’s striking that balance to be visible and additive to the  creative,” adds Nathan Tan, associate director, brand partnerships and experiences at Cadillac.

Another frequent question from brands that  arises is around the future of brand integration.  “The silos between how people are viewing content are collapsing,” says Butler. “People are watching across devices and platforms – all  forms of content are blending together.”

What’s telling is that the lines between social  influencers and celebrities are also blurring, especially in the last year. Influencers are becoming bigger and bigger, and people are  taking note.

“Celebrities have learned from the YouTubers  and Instagrammers,” says Butler. “They need to  be looked at more as media now. But they also  want to be creators, and this is where brands have a better opportunity than ever before.”

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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