The Power of Integrating Advertainment with Product Placement

Product placement is hot in Hollywood and television right now.  Fueled largely by advertiser’s fear of consumers fast forwarding through their ads, product placement deals are popping up everywhere.  Related to this trend is the rise of "Advertainment," in which advertisers focus on creating entertaining branded content.  This is not about simply placing your brand in the context of preexisting programming.  Advertainment is about creating entertaining content and weaving a brand message into it.  One pioneer in this space was BMW, who released a DVD of BMW Films several years ago.  Since then, many others have tried this idea in different ways – including American Express with the Directors Series ads and Ford with their branded ads during American Idol featuring contestants performing songs while riding around in Ford cars.  The power of this type of advertainment represents a trend in the television advertising: creating advertising that is so entertaining, people want to watch.    

This focus on creating advertainment comes at a price.  Integrating a branded message that informs consumers about your product in an entertaining way is difficult to do.  Sometimes the most entertaining TV spots do little to advertise a brand or product.  While these ads are very watchable and often get more concentrated attention from viewers, the value for brands is not clear.  In essence, brand marketers are doing product placement in their own television ads, with varying degrees of success.  The main issue is that creating branded messages and creating entertaining content are sometimes opposing priorities.  Added to this is the “turn off factor” when consumers realize that content they are watching is actually an advertisement.  There are two solutions to this issue.  The first is a very discliplined approach to the creative process that provides more creative control to the production team.  This is the model that worked for both BMW and American Express.  The second involves simply separating the activities so content is created by a production team and the negotiation of product or brand placement happens separately.  This is exactly how product placement happens today, yet the key barrier for advertisers is artistic integrity.  Product placement can be subtle, but not so dramatic as to overpower the content.  This is the balance that all product placement today needs to try and make (with some notable exceptions, such as the new Will Ferrell film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby). 

Yet what if there were an open market for 30/60 second films with product placement opportunities for brands?  Film producers and directors could create short compelling content designed to be aired during commercial breaks.  The best content could draw from themes in the TV programming they support, and could even come from bonus content created by a studio to expand on a story from a film or TV program (similar to what The Matrix did with The Animatrix, which was released between films).  These mini-programs would have compelling story lines, but also be written in such as way to include products or brands in a more integrated way.  For example, a 30 second spot during 24 might show Jack Bauer driving to somewhere in his Ford truck while tuning his Sirius radio, using his Magellan GPS direction tracker, and quickly eating a Snickers to satisfy his hunger (even super agents have to eat something before saving the world, right?).  Four products, heavily integrated and prominent and best of all … four times the revenue for the studio in an environment separate enough from the "main show" that it doesn’t compromise the artistic integrity of the show.  In a 30 second spot during regular commercials, an effort like this would stand out.  And branding could be overt and prominent.  This is the potential power of integrated advertainment with product placement.  I dare you to find me a 24 watcher that would fast forward an ad like that …

This post is republished from an article originally written for the weekly Marketing Insider column on Digital Media Wire.

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