Brands partnering with entertainment outlets to produce content represent an effective, though selective phenomenon, according to entertainment executives at a recent Creative Week panel in New York. They were there to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Scott Donaton’s book, Madison & Vine that spotlighted the trend.
“It was about marketing in an end-user controlled world. It was initially fear-based, that TV viewers would skip ads because of the introduction of TIVO. The thought was that brands could say worthy things that are story-based”, explained Donaton, former editor of Ad Age, and currently global chief content officer at UM Studio.
Key takeaways revolve around the evolution and dynamics involved:
Defining moments of branded entertainment abound, especially BMW Films (aka the gold standard) and BMW videos featuring Daniel Craig as James Bond. The Restaurant TV show also broke new ground. “The show’s thesis was that restaurants were the new theatre”, said Ben Silverman, founder and chairman of Electus. Of course, it’s easy to see that now, but it was rather novel at the time. Among other notable collaborations are American Idol and Coca-Cola, The Biggest Loser and 24-Hour Fitness, and Transformers movie and Hasbro.
Moving the brand needle: Not surprisingly, the executives behind similar initiatives are supporters of their value. The show Sons of Anarchy was pitched to Harley-Davidson as “The Sopranos meets Easy Rider“, said Mark-Hans Richter, the company’s SVP and CMO. “Over time, it’s been a great partnership. It does help to sell Harleys, though it’s hard to separate it out. Harley-Davidson is the #1 selling motorcycle now among young adults”. He said many elements went into the increased market share, including the show.
Not too big to fail: Still, not all programs work so seamlessly. Jae Goodman, co-chief creative officer and co-head of marketing at CAA Agency, was big enough to own up to a particularly unpleasant memory. He recalled when one of his former clients, The Gap, hired his firm during the 2008 election to turn the flagship store into a giant voting booth, complete with robots. However, the engineers couldn’t get them to work, so the store remained closed for a day. After the passage of time, they do work for Old Navy, another Gap brand, now he noted.
Selective adoption: “This is such a bespoke area that it hasn’t scaled. It’s a resource issue, and it involves lots of work”, noted Donaton. “Now the process hasn’t really accelerated much further over time, since you need to find like-minded people to do the work”, Silverman added. “But once clients do branded entertainment and it works for them, then they’re willing to do it again. Overall there’s a big reward for those brands”.
Even well-known directors like Ron Howard are willing to work with certain brands, Donaton said. Plus, late night comics like Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, occasionally feature specific brands in their tongue-in-cheek sketches.
A ten-year perspective: As Donaton, who coined the term “Madison & Vine”, said, “it’s a thriving center of commerce, and has been transformative, though it extends beyond Hollywood and is a global phenomenon now”.
Time has also added some elements of financial control. As Goodman said, “now the checkbook stays in the back pocket until the idea is set. For many in this space, the overriding approach is “idea flow before deal flow”.