Content remains king and companies are looking for different ways to integrate their brands into content (existing or original). Unfortunately, most of them do a lousy job.
How can we make an organic integration between a brand and content? Let’s start by saying that the challenge for brands is to find integrations that are relevant not only for consumers, but also relevant to the content.
Brand managers and ad agencies need to stop seeing the brand as a sponsor and start seeing it as a character. In a story, you not only have the main characters (hero and villain, protagonist and antagonist), but also supporting players. There are symbolic characters, mythical characters, and even non-human characters (initially a perfect fit for those brands that don’t have icons or spokespersons).
For example, consider the role of the California vineyards in the film “Sideways” or the role of cars in any 007 movie. It is important to distinguish organic integration from “product placement.” When a product is featured without a specific role, the brand has a very superficial exposure and has no relevance to the story. To really connect the brand to the audience, your brand has to have an active role in the story; otherwise it's a waste of time and resources.
Defining brands as characters will allow entertainment companies to find better and more relevant roles for brands in the story and allow ad agencies to develop additional content units and advertising pieces.
Also, entertainment companies, directors, and producers need to stop seeing brands as necessary evils. It is important to remind everyone, even consumers, that advertising provides free entertainment. It seems this is taken for granted.
It’s also important to place brands in different locations. No brand wants to be perceived as "noise" that "interrupts" the fun. They may not know how to do it but now more than ever we need to make brands part of the story, rather than part of the interruption.
Entertainment companies and ad agencies also need to start working together. And they need to do it before the content is produced. Since the brand is a character, they need to be involved from the beginning of the content creation process. The later you integrate a brand into the story, the more you risk making its presence irrelevant and weak. This it quite a challenge since they don’t know how to work together.
The creatives from ad agencies need to start thinking more like producers. They also need to start thinking about longer format units and multi-level integrations.
Directors and producers need to include brands in their creative process. In doing so they will have time to find a role for the brand that won’t interfere with the story. This allows for relevant and seamless brand integrations. Working together will allow entertainment companies to charge more money and ad agencies to become more effective.