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Execs Ponder Future of 'Branded Entertainment'

18 Jan, 2006 By: Kurt Indvik

The branding of the band KISS was among the topics at a recent conference.

Madison Avenue and Hollywood Blvd. are merging into one new “branded entertainment” highway.

Of course “product placement” has been with us for many years. But the growing penetration of digital video recorders, mobile entertainment and the increasing draw of video games away from other forms of entertainment are causing major brand marketers and Hollywood to step up development of branded entertainment relationships as a way to keep the symbiotic relationship thriving.

Branded entertainment is entertainment in which consumer product brands are integrated ever-more deeply into the setting and even storylines of movies, TV shows and video games. In some cases, it's entertainment that's created specifically for the brand, and now is beginning to be developed and created by the brand itself. The goal: to find ways marketers can build brand awareness in a fractured media environment in which traditional forms of advertising are losing their relevance. And, oh yeah, it's a great source of revenue for Hollywood.

At a conference in Hollywood Jan. 17, presented by VNU Business Media (The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard, Adweek, Nielsen Entertainment and others) and UCLA, senior execs from major studios and advertising and marketing agencies, gathered to explore the next steps beyond simple, and often obviously obtrusive, product placements. Interestingly enough, little was said during panel discussions about the DVD platform as a marketing vehicle, and informal talks with executives there indicated little support for traditional spot advertisements before or after DVD content.

With DVD reaching saturation, cable in more than 70 percent of homes, and even video game players in more than 50 percent of homes, consumers are beginning to push back against traditional entertainment, said Jim Taylor, vice chairman of research and consulting firm The Harrison Group. A consumer poll by the firm recently showed the top two items on consumers purchase intent list were Apple's iPod and a new cell phone, presumably video enabled. Forty-one percent of households, he found, have no intent on buying another home entertainment device in the near future.

The oft-maligned quality of movies in 2005, coupled with increasing costs to go to the movies, may be, in part, reasons why some 75 percent of respondents said they'd just as soon stay at home with family and friends to enjoy entertainment as go out. The other key trend, driven by younger demographic groups, revolves around managing and creating personal entertainment and “interpersonal speech” or messaging.

Games as a vehicle to deliver brand messages continues to develop, as research indicates consumers feel properly placed brands in the context of a game (on billboards and other real life situations) do not detract from the game, but in fact enhance its realism, Harrison and other panelists throughout the day said.

That theme continued throughout a variety of panel discussions and presentations covering a myriad of models for TV, movies, online and portable content. Attendees heard from execs from Mercedes-Benz USA to Universal Music Group to Reveille LLC, and other content and marketing execs offering case studies from Be Cool to “The L Word” to “The Office” NASCAR and others that successfully integrated brands into the content, or spun off brand-sponsored promotions attached to entertainment properties.

To be successful, said Cindy Gallop, co-chair of the Branded Content Marketing Association, brand marketers and Hollywood have to work together closely and early in development of projects to find the right “emotional integration” of a brand within a story line or scene; one that provides the marketers with an opportunity to build an emotional connection with a consumer, and gives the creator of the product a “positive force” in the overall entertainment value of his product instead of detracting from it.

In perhaps the most colorful presentation of the day, rocker Gene Simmons, co-founder of KISS, talked about pursuing his vision of a worldwide brand with the band, and also announced his new affiliation with the Indy racing organization in the United States. KISS just came out with another DVD set through Image in December, and has another on the way later this year.

The band has managed — after 32 years — to continue its power as a entertainment brand morphing into a $1 billion business, according to Simmons, as the band has lent its name to some 2,600 products, including action dolls, soda, casinos, NASCAR, Holiday Inn, wine brands, and on and on.

His new marketing entity Simmons/Abramson Marketing, formed with partner Rich Abramson, has just signed a deal to market Indy racing in the U.S. and develop events, it was announced at the show. Look for “I Am Indy” marketing campaigns soon.

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