On Mark Burnett’s The Apprentice, contestants were recently given the task of designing a new toy for Mattel. Most of the Apprentices-to-be did a horrible job, but one team came up with an idea for a remote-controlled car the focus group kids liked so much, the company has decided to manufacture it. Dubbed ‘Morph Machines,’ the line was an unexpected bonus brought about by the pairing of an advertising client and a television production. Too bad they’re not all that fruitful.
Most advertiser/prodco relationships are shotgun weddings, and they look it. For example, in every episiode of TLC’s What Not to Wear, there’s that awkward moment when the hosts hand their shleppy guest a Visa card and everyone stands there looking at the thing like it was a cod suddenly produced at a church service.
Trading Spaces does a slightly better job cleaning up rooms with its Swiffers, but then you cut to the Swiffer sponsorship tag and they blow the magic with the line: ‘Guests on Trading Spaces clean with…,’ or something to that effect. When the client jumps up and starts waving at me, you’ve broken the viewer/broadcaster contract. I feel violated – ripped off. I’m going to buy my clothes with my AmEx, and clean with some of the old Judas Priest t-shirts that have been sitting at the bottom of my closet since the early ’80s. (Wait… Maybe I should be on What not to Wear?)
It’s just not clever marketing – and it’s bad content. As Sarah Coursey, head of marketing for Munich-based Telcast, points out in this issue: branded content only works when it is a pull model, not a push. In other words, when you pull the viewers towards you with the content and the added value the partnership brings.
The Mattel toy scheme is the perfect example. Have your viewers cheer for the team designing the toy. Make them want to see that toy manufactured so they can get it in stores later on. Make them feel part of the process. It’s good content because viewers have become emotionally invested, and it’s good marketing because viewers remember Mattel’s participation in the show as something they were happy with – they’re the toyco with the guts to take those amateur designs and put them on shelves. (With Apprentice banding, I might add. Burnett wins again.)
Branded content and sponsorship is only going to become a bigger part of production in the next decade, so we might as well get used to it. More importantly, we might as well learn how to do it properly, because when it’s done wrong, the sum is lesser than the whole of the parts.
But if you can do it well, the money will beat a path to your door. Just ask Levi Strauss, Procter & Gamble, Visa or Pepsi, all of which paid a reported US$1 million-plus to be involved in The Apprentice. Not even ‘The Donald’ can sniff at that kind of money.