BEF wrap-up: Branded content requires careful collaboration

Over 275 delegates from the production, broadcast and cable, and media and creative agency sectors converged upon realscreen's first Branded Entertainment Forum in New York City on Monday. (Photo: Silvia Forni)
October 27, 2010

Producers, broadcasters, ad agency creatives and marketers are all interested in producing branded entertainment but must first overcome sometimes divergent goals, creative jockeying and barriers in the way companies are structured to make a hit. That was the message to come out of realscreen‘s first annual Branded Entertainment Forum held in New York City on Monday.

The tone for the event, which attracted over 275 delegates from the production, broadcast, media and creative agency sectors, was set at the event’s first panel ‘Making It Work: Creating Captivating Branded Content’ by Michael Davies, president of production company Embassy Row, who pronounced early on that ‘there hasn’t been a successful hit in branded entertainment.’

While there have been many successful product integrations such as Hasbro’s Transformers franchise and Coca-Cola on American Idol, he argued no branded content piece has caused a major shift in ad spending.

Pepsi’s chief consumer engagement officer Frank Cooper agreed with Davies, and explained that his title change from chief marketing officer is a reflection of his company’s intention to create meaningful ‘experiences’ for consumers, rather than traditional advertising. The reason behind the lack of branded content hits is structural, Cooper said. The way marketing departments are structured is the culprit: creatives, writers, sales teams and business development often work in silos.

He cited Mountain Dew’s ‘Dewmocracy’ campaign directed by Forrest Whitaker and Legend of Talladega, a forthcoming Pepsi-sponsored short film directed by filmmaker Terry Gilliam and starring David Arquette as recent examples. ‘We are the studio presenting that content,’ he said.

Creative Artists Agency chief creative officer Jae Goodman explained that even though there were doubts among networks concerning American Idol – ‘All the networks passed on the show – some of them twice,’ he said – until the format was taken on by Fox, securing a partnership between Coca-Cola and American Idol has proved incredibly beneficial to both parties.

Davies argued that the challenge for branded content is making it appear seamless. If a show or film is a hit, it’s because the integration fits authentically into the storyline and it leads to a sales lift.

Another panel, moderated by IFC tv/Sundance Channel president Evan Shapiro, examined the issues surrounding the measuring of branded content. Panelists included Carolyn Everson, corporate vice president, global advertising sales & trade marketing for Microsoft; Bart Flaherty, CEO of GroupM Business Science and Christie Kawada, SVP, strategic marketing science for Nielsen Entertainment Custom Television. Davies’ earlier comment about a lack of bona fide hits in branded entertainment served as a major talking point for the discussion on what criteria is needed to measure branded content’s effectiveness.

The day featured a dozen 15-minute case study presentations showing the variety of partnerships that content creators have undertaken to produce branded entertainment, both in non-fiction and scripted.

Honda’s VP of marketing operations outlined how a partnership with Sundance Channel has led to a series of short films directed by high-profile documentary filmmakers as part of the automaker’s ‘Dream The Impossible’ campaign. Endemol USA’s VP, development, programming and sales, digital media David Armour explained how the company worked with social networking site MySpace to distribute Married On MySpace and with Nokia to webcast a Rihanna concert via content filmed with mobile handsets, and how that content traveled across platforms, from mobile to TV to retail outlets.

CAA agency Jon Kaplan and Elle‘s SVP, chief brand officer Robin Domeniconi showed how the publisher has featured in MTV series The City and produced original web series to rebrand editors as personalities and grow the magazine in to new pop culture channels. Telisa Yancy, advertising director for American Family Insurance, outlined how her department partnered with NBC to produce the homespun web series In Gayle We Trust to fight for top-of-mind awareness among potential consumers.

Creatives from ad agencies Wieden+Kennedy, Portland and 180, Los Angeles showed clips from recent branded documentaries produced for Levi’s and Sony Electronics, respectively. Mark Burnett Productions’ head of brand integration took leave of a shoot for the latest season of The Apprentice to take audience questions about the reality giant’s multi-million dollar integration deals.

Considering the variety of ways brands are choosing to produce long-form entertainment – whether online or on TV – the case studies illustrated the central theme of the event: the medium and format is beside the point. The challenge for branded entertainment producers is that marketers are spending the same amount of money but there are more partners in the mix; thus sparking the necessity for a more collaborative creative process and higher accountability to deliver ROI.

‘Our clients are not looking for a hit TV series, they’re looking to move product,’ Peter Tortorici, CEO of GroupM Entertainment, told the crowd during the State of the Branded Entertainment Nation panel. ‘A strong intellectual property is incidental to what the real issue is.’

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