NEW YORK A new TNT crime thriller starring Jonathon Schaech (a star of the just-released feature film Quarantine) set to debut Oct. 21 is not exactly your run-of-the-mill detective series. While it features the usual suspects -- criminals, cops with family issues -- RPM is a micro series of 20 two-minute episodes developed exclusively for the Ford Motor Co.'s new Lincoln MKS car.
While celebrities have been doing straight-ahead brand endorsements since the dawn of advertising, the use of recognizable TV and film actors -- not to mention superstars such as Rihanna and Chris Brown -- in branded-entertainment initiatives appears to be the latest way for advertisers to score some oomph for their products.
"People are looking for that extra added sizzle, that emotional connection," said Carol Goll, head of branded entertainment at International Creative Management. "And they're utilizing celebrity talent [to create it]. It heightens the level of awareness and recall with a lot of different products."
Branded entertainment, in general, is primed for high growth. According to PQ Media's "Branded Entertainment Marketing Forecast: 2008-2012" -- released before the financial crisis hit Wall Street and beyond -- the sector is expected to reach 13.9 percent growth this year, with ad expenditures projected at approximately $25 billion. Last year, ad spending on the sector was about $22 billion. The report suggests double-digit growth through 2012, and notes ad spending will likely surpass $40 billion.
RPM, developed by Mandalay Television, Ford Motor Media (media agency for the automaker) and TNT, will appear in commercial breaks during Law & Order as well as online on TNT.tv. The car is being positioned as another "character" with plenty of screen time. Schaech's character, Reed P. Marks (for whom the show is named), uses various Lincoln MKS features (e.g., with Ford Sirius TravelLink, which allows drivers to get information on things such as gas prices in the area).
"It obviously would have been easier to go into this without Hollywood talent and try [to] produce the micro series ourselves," said a representative for the Ford-owned Lincoln brand. "But we wanted to give [our consumers] the best content we could."
One high-profile marketer in the celebrity branded-entertainment arena is Wrigley. ICM's Goll pointed to the partnership between R&B artist Chris Brown, one of ICM's clients, and Wrigley. He was commissioned by the company to weave the Doublemint jingle's "Double your pleasure. Double your fun" into his new song, "Forever." (It subsequently debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 music chart last summer.) "That was a really fresh approach to branded entertainment [that] takes things to a whole new level," said Goll. (The song also created controversy among fans that felt betrayed by Brown, who had not noted the commercial connection.)
Wrigley also partnered with maniaTV, one of the first Internet television networks (it launched in 2004). In July, maniaTV created a live-performance series called "Stage 5," named for the advertiser's Five Gum brand, which also includes interviews and backstage footage. Musical artists, such as GZA from Wu-Tang Clan and The Donnas, typically perform a few songs, with one of them also featured on maniaTV's two most popular programs, "All Access" and Dave Navarro's "Spread TV."
"The branding is baked into the content of the performances and interviews, which can't be skipped wherever it gets viewed. It's a long-term strategic buy," said Peter Hoskins CEO of maniaTV.
David Caruso, co-founder and president of Acme Brand Content, a nearly year-old company that plans and builds branded-entertainment platforms for clients, emphasized that the viral nature of branded entertainment gets an added boost from celebrity backing. "Celebrity names are brands in and of themselves," he said.
Last year, Caruso, then at Alliance, the branded-entertainment marketing division of Grey Advertising, worked on a musical partnership between Cover Girl and pop singer Rihanna, which continues to stream online. When the YouTube video begins to roll, a Cover Girl billboard appears. At the end there's a Cover Girl brand message from the singer. Caruso noted that the YouTube video version has 48 millions views, "which is amazing viral spread."