MIPTV may be the most important annual event in global TV entertainment, attracting about 11,000 buyers and sellers, but we ad guys usually aren't seen in Cannes until a couple of months later, when we arrive to chase Lions.
In fact, this was our second visit to MIPTV to promote our branded entertainment TV format, Buy This!, created in collaboration with FremantleMedia. Our presence was even remarked upon by the organizers, who told us they wanted to see more brands and agencies participating. Here's why that's likely to happen.
Entertainment Is the New Utility for Brands
For the last five years, "branded entertainment" has been a phrase on everyone's lips in Cannes, at both MIPTV and the Lions. But according the French Adweek—Business Actualité, which carried extensive coverage—it's only just begun to live up to expectations. Until now, it has basically consisted of retrofitting existing entertainment properties with brands. But it seems the tide is turning. Business Actualité listed the three best branded entertainment concepts in the world at the moment. And our little format, Buy This!, was fortunate enough to have made the cut:
The Definition of Branded Entertainment
The definition of branded entertainment is still vague at best. In fact, as the overall quality of TV advertising has fallen, any ad with a storyline seems keen to be considered branded content. But let's face it—a long ad is just a long ad, even if it has an arc. Meanwhile, production companies that graft a brand onto an existing product should be aware that this isn't branded entertainment either—it's sponsorship.
In our opinion, true branded content can be divided into two categories: original branded content, which focuses on one brand like Red Bull, Chipotle or Marriott; and branded content platforms, which feature multiple brands. Yes, just like our Buy This!
If the definition of branded entertainment is blurry, it's even harder to define who should be producing it and what they can do for brands. Many production companies seem unwilling to share their intellectual property or let brands have a say in its development. They want the brand's money but not its opinion. So they'll only go as far as offering the sponsorship of existing content or its digital extension.
Advertising agencies just end up making longer-form advertising. During his keynote at MIPTV, Yannick Bolloré, the CEO of Havas, presented a beautifully choreographed and acted safety instruction video for Air France. It was lovely, but it was a lovely safety instruction video—nothing more.
We think the definition of branded entertainment should be the following: it's content, it's likeable, it's creative, it meets brands' objectives and it's good enough to get a prime-time slot on a major commercial channel.
To achieve this, brands need to look for new players in the market. In fact, what's required is a sort of hybrid—an agency that combines content production with brand advertising or a production company that can deliver brand stories. And the brand needs to be closely involved in creating the content, so both parties are committed.
The organizers of MIPTV named Marriott the Brand of The Year, an award given to Chipotle for "Farmed And Dangerous" in 2014 and Intel/Vice for "The Creators' Project" in 2013. Marriott clearly understands the meaning of branded entertainment and is using it successfully to drive brand awareness and sales globally. It has also solved the dilemma of how branded entertainment should be produced. As Daniel "Malakai" Cabrera, the director-producer of "Two Bellman" said, "They gave us freedom to build the brand as one of the characters."
"Two Bellmen" is an action-comedy from Marriott Content Studios about, well, two bellmen who prove their company loyalty when the JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE hotel in Los Angeles is struck by "The Purple Panthers," notorious smash-and-grab art thieves. A comedic, genre-bending explosion of parkour, martial arts, dance and music, it features stars from the hip-hop and b-boy dance worlds, not to mention leading Hollywood stuntmen William Spencer and Caine Sinclair as the titular bellmen.
With a production budget of $250,000, "Two Bellmen" is a cheap investment when you consider that Marriott has more than 1 million hotel rooms in which to distribute the content. And the show isn't doing badly on YouTube, either, with over 5 million views and counting.
For Marriott, this was not just a one-off. According to Karin Timpone, global marketing officer, and David Beebe, vp of creative and content marketing, they are already working on the next piece of content. "French Kiss," a short film, will premiere May 19 in a multiplatform strategy that embraces digital, theater, in-room, online, Marriott.com and 47 million Marriott Reward members. With those numbers, its ratings will exceed many Hollywood productions.
How to Measure Success
So, what should brands be looking for from branded entertainment? Mindshare Entertainment's David Lang summed it up in an Adweek-moderated session: "Content tells a consumer what you stand for; advertising tells a consumer what you want them to buy." If that's true, brands should measure their success with three KPIs:
2) Engagement level
3) Earned media
Sales is also a good measure—but sales of what? If you think about it, a good entertainment product has a value in itself, so it could be a new addition to the company's portfolio. Red Bull has a business unit dedicated to entertainment, so it's not just driving sales of other products.
If a Tex-Mex Restaurant Can Do It, You Have No Excuses
So, which brands can and should be creating entertainment? Marvel and even Lego clearly have a creative legitimacy. But if Chipotle can make a miniseries about its brand values and sell it to Hulu as entertainment, the door is wide open. If your brand has a story, you have the potential to do branded entertainment—and almost every brand has a story. In the end, it really comes down to creativity. Or the lack of it.