ANA Forum Reveals Branded Deals Are The Norm, But Pitfalls Remain
People watch programming, and messages that disrupt rather than complement it can trigger backlash against both the brand and show, panelists agreed.
"The important thing is that it's got to be contextually relevant," warned keynote speaker Greg Ott, vice-president of marketing for online search engine Ask.com, which cooperated with NBC to integrate Ask.com into the network's "Treasure Hunters" reality series. "It's about making sure that your brands really fit with the composition of the show."
Indeed, the results of the ANA study had 51 percent of respondents listing "alignment of brand with relevant content" as the No. 1 advantage, while among those not participating, 27 percent said it was because "my brand(s) do not lend themselves to meaningful integration."
Ott and other panelists expressed a desire for more control over the way brands are integrated. "Often it's been like a box of chocolates, because you really don't know what you're going to get," said Ott, recalling the "famous Reebok 'Jerry Maguire' story, where the line [in the movie] ended up being 'F--k Reebok,' or something like that."
So when it came to Ask.com's branded entertainment project with NBC, Ott said, "We wanted to make sure that we were really working with the producers and the people who owned the content--the people who can handle the program development in such a way that it really showcases the brand so it feels organically integrated into the show."
In the case of "Treasure Hunters," different teams used Ask.com to solve historical clues and unravel a mystery around the world, as they competed for a cash prize.
Though many media planners probably wouldn't turn down increased control over the context in which their clients' messages appear, this is another place where branded entertainment cuts both ways. According to one audience member who has handled branded entertainment for a high-end clothing retailer in a popular teen drama, the difficulties of positioning a brand appropriately in a narrative environment can become a logistical nightmare as well as a huge time drain for media execs.
Onstage Ott later echoed this sentiment: "With branded entertainment, there's definitely a lot of changes in schedule, and you've got to be flexible." But it's an open question whether media execs will take broadcasters' demands for patience and flexibility seriously.