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Branded Entertainment OK For Viewers, Marketers

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Branded entertainment has become commonplace in communications efforts, and even advertisers are surprised at how deep its roots have sunk into the mainstream. And that is just fine with viewers—the vast majority of whom have no problem with product placements if they are done right.

Those are the key findings from two surveys released last week on what is arguably the hottest topic in marketing communications. Client and agency executives agreed—overwhelmingly—that they are using embedded content most frequently to boost awareness, not just drive sales.

Last week, at its annual TV Advertising Forum, the Association of National Advertisers released the results of a survey conducted earlier this month, which found 63 percent of the total number of respondents (118 senior-level members) had participated in branded-entertainment projects in the past year, and 80 percent indicated they thought such efforts would be incorporated into their future upfront TV deals.

ANA president Bob Liodice said he was surprised at just how pervasive branded entertainment has become. "You tend to hear about a handful of companies that do this in a big way like the Cokes, the AmExes and the Sears," he said. Before the survey, Liodice said, he would have guessed that only one-quarter of ANA members was using the format.

The survey, which asked respondents what their key measurement elements were, found 85 percent indicating "who was reached" as a key metric, and only 52 percent pointing to "effect on purchase behavior."

Dave Burwick, chief marketing officer for Pepsi Cola North America, said that using branded entertainment to drive sales is a flawed strategy. "We tend to have modest goals," he said of its branded-entertainment efforts. For example, Pepsi did a segment on The Apprentice for Pepsi Edge. The product turned out "not to be a success," he said. However, the episode worked "because it drove awareness through the roof."

Branded entertainment apparently is so critical to the marketing mix that many companies are overpaying for it. Indeed, 79 percent of those polled said their companies think such deals tend to be overpriced. Eight-two percent said they funded branded entertainment via a shift from other budgets (several executives said mostly from TV budgets).

"Branded entertainment has become a necessity," said Brian Terkelsen, svp, director of entertainment marketing at Publicis Groupe's MediaVest. "Between clutter, DVR penetration and fragmentation, we really only have this old technology, product placement, that we can actually enhance. Branded entertainment is the enhancement."

A separate study from WPP Group's MindShare showed that one-third of the 1,200 consumers polled online said they had responded to product placement ads by trying a product. Overall, 80 percent have a positive view toward product placement, although 46 percent qualified their receptivity with the caveat that "it depends on how it's done."