Making Branded Entertainment Work For You

Sometimes people get angry. In my last column, "How NOT Using Traditional Online Video Advertising Increases Brand Favorability," I laid out the idea that, in today's digital marketplace the most precious commodity is engaged-attention and time, and that a messaging tool like branded entertainment is much more effective than online commercials and banner ads, because users will actually embrace relevant content.

From this I got enough angry emails that I felt it my responsibility to put my neighbors on notice that they might find an effigy of me burning in the hallway.

Colleagues -- whom I had no idea harbored such hate -- wrote to me exclaiming, "Branded entertainment will never have legs because it doesn't get the message right out in front of people!"

Going on the notion that it's warmer in the summer months, and that hot weather can make people agitated and aggressive, I'll forgive all those who threatened my family and elaborate on ways that most marketers can afford to be involved in branded entertainment and point out how it does get the message right in front of your target audience.

First, branded entertainment is a premium tool. It's content, so it needs to grow an audience, come out in a webisodic fashion on a regular basis, and encourage continued discussion and interaction with users. One should think of it as a much longer campaign where you look for friends, make friends and work to maintain those friendships. Here are some ways to put in content.

1) Create original programming. As I've discussed in the past, branded entertainment is just that, entertainment, not a hard-sell commercial. That said, it doesn't mean you're not communicating your brand. A good original show concept should spring from the philosophies, voice and messaging of the sponsoring brand.

If you're a more serious company with 200 years of history, targeting young conservatives who need help investing, a potential original concept could be a series that teaches an investment strategy checklist like assessing risk, diversification and current market analysis. All guests on the show could come from your company, and visually the set and host might have an old-world, old-money feel that communicates the history and long-standing success of the institution.

2) Title-sponsor existing programming. Sometimes starting from the ground up isn't what you want to spend your time doing. As more and more good content is produced online, audiences will grow around it. Find a show you feel fits your brand and become the title sponsor. This option puts your brand right in front of the user -- and as a title sponsor, you often get to work in logo and messaging.

Additionally, depending on the deal you negotiate, if the show is already making money from ads that run around it via distribution, your sponsorship can be invested in gaining even broader distribution. 3) Integrate product and logos in a number of shows. Characters always need to be lifelike and believable -- in most shows they can't just drink Dharma Initiative-issued generic products like "BEER." Sometimes they talk about going to the bank ([your bank here]), using a laundry detergent ([your brand here]) or deciding to decorate their apartment with a cool neon sign ([your logo here]). With planning and good writing, characters can easily mention a seasonal sale or new product (all of which are reinforced by your other marketing efforts).

Original programming, title sponsorship and product integration are just a few of the ways to get involved. They can be expensive when compared to ROS banner buys on network inventory, but we're talking peanuts compared to offline production. Plus where else can you get significant reach for five minutes of engaged brand exposure?

As the old saying goes, "Don't tell me, show me" -- and with branded entertainment, you can cost-effectively use plot devices and characters to actually exhibit how your brand makes people's lives a little better, easier or greener. That said, please stop threatening mine. Thanks.

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