Monday, June 29, 2009

A blanket ban on brand entertainment

For decades, brands have appeared in, funded, produced, marketed and sponsored entertainment. Proctor & Gamble set up their own production company to create radio serials back in the 30s. Soap operas had an obvious beginning. Recently in a meeting with Reg Grundy, our most famous television pioneer explained how brand funding gave him a start in television. Graham Kennedy's paid for 'in program advertisements' where he pilloried products for minutes on end were legendary.

No one called this brand entertainment.

In recent years, we've witnessed a product placement juggernaut and a move towards more sophisticated attempts to weave brands into storytelling. Taking their cue from the sports sponsorship model, brands have also become smarter about leveraging the value of their involvement with entertainment.

Everyone (including me) has called this brand entertainment, or something similar.

But it seems to me, this is where the whole damn trouble began - the emergence of this now ubiquitous phrase, and the invention of this 'new discipline' has a lot to answer for.

Frankly the language seems outdated, and it's holding us back.

Because as more than one observer has noted, the term 'brand entertainment' still has a bit of a stink about it.

Not in the minds of audience or marketers necessarily. But certainly in the worlds of media owners, TV networks, major production companies etc, there is still an unwarranted stigma attached to the notion of brand entertainment.

There is absolutely no guarantee that because a production company, online platform or network develops a show, finds the brands and then dictates their involvement that a) the brand integration will be any more sophisticated or better executed than if a brand were to do it all themselves (with the right partners and expertise) and b) the entertainment values will be superior.

Look at Network Nine's homemade, I'd suggest it's fairly heavyhanded on the brand integration front. Only it's not badged as brand entertainment, as it's a network commissioned show. And given it's ratings performance, it's hard to say that it's delivering for audiences.

Brands invested 50 million pounds in Quantum of Solace but no one says 'oh yeah, Quantum of Solace is a brand funded movie'.

As I've written about previously, brand funded entertainment is not entirely blameless for the position it finds itself in. However, given it's burdened by a legacy of language, I've got a simple solution.

I vote we kill off these phrases - brand funded TV, branded content, advertiser funded programming, brand entertainment, branded entertainment.

What entertainment is not brand funded one way or another?

Let's return to one simple word.


Which is after all what we're all working hard to create.

I reckon that solves everything.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bill Wasik, Susan Boyle and Henry Jenkins

If you have a spare few hours, Henry Jenkins' eight part If it doesn't spread it's dead series makes for some fascinating theoretical reading.

But if you're on a lunch break, try this article from on 'viral culture'.

It's an interview with Bill Wasik, 'internet instigator' and original inventor of the flash mob.

It's insightful, pragmatic. In particular I like his analysis of the Susan Boyle phenomenon and what he calls the 'nanostory' (there's a lot more to the article than SB but thought it worth mentioning).

"I define nanostory as the basic unit of this kind of churning viral culture. Susan Boyle is a classic example of a nanostory. She burst onto the scene. Not just in Britain but here in the U.S. with a few YouTube videos. And immediately what she becomes is not just a little celebrity but this giant symbol of all this stuff about the culture that people want to hang on her. Her age or her appearance becomes symbolic of cutting against this youth- and beauty-obsessed media culture. The sort of style of music she likes, these throwback Broadway songs, wind up being indicative of some kind of more transcendent approach to music.

She becomes this giant symbol and all this meaning gets heaped upon her. But then of course, there's nothing to sustain it. She became this giant micro-star at a point when she wasn't going to be on television again for many weeks. If you can't feed the machine, then it shuts down. We'll just be distracted onto the next thing if it doesn't give us more to keep us going. That, to me, is a classic example of a nanostory. It is a short-lived media phenomenon that is driven by the sheer quantity and speed of the contemporary conversation. So many hours of cable news to fill, there are so many blogs that need refreshing. Now there's Twitter and more. And so we seize upon these tiny little things and try to elevate them into sensations, but of course they can't bear up under the weight of it."

For a different viewpoint, you can check our Henry Jenkin's view here

Monday, June 15, 2009

Five great entertainment marketing blogs

The latest incarnation of the B&T Top Marketing Blogs list has inspired a little list of my own.

I thought I'd highlight five blogs which are a great resource for anyone working in the intersecting worlds of brands, content, filmmaking and digital media.

Gary Hayes' Personalize Media offers insightful, detailed and in depth posts on what might be dubbed the socialisation of entertainment (see his presentation here on 'The Future of Social Media Entertainment' and this post on the socialisation of TV and gaming). Gary's blog has an emphasis on quality rather than frequency - it's a great resource for anyone interested in gaming, virtual worlds and cross platform storytelling.

Christy Dena is an Australian cross media specialist and academic. Her 'corner of the universe' is a seemingly limitless resource for anyone interested in cross platform entertainment and ARGs in particular. Definitely one for a rainy day, you'll always find something to keep you interested.

NewTeeVee is a great source of news on the latest developments, launches, announcements from the world of entertainment, online video and related technologies.

Julian Cole's Adspace Pioneers often unearths intriguing memes and great examples of non professional content creators doing interesting things (especially Youtubers, see this post on Blunty3000 as an example). Julian also shares useful tidbits from both his workings with, and observations about, brands active in the social media space like this great post on some practical campaign learnings and this one which identifies film marketing campaigns that have utilised social media.

Chris Thilk's Movie Marketing Madness blog is a good resource for anyone working in entertainment marketing. He's a bit bower bird like in the way he collects bits and pieces from the world of movie marketing and advertising, and writes a good combination of news and opinion.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Top article from Mashable: the brands getting it right on Youtube

In this great Mashable article, Catherine-Gail Reinhard identifies five outstanding Youtub-ing brands.

While commending big glossy one like Quiksilver and Nike, Catherine also calls out the humbler efforts of brands like the University of Phoenix.

The point is, it's not about being big and flashy, but about being committed, true to 'thine own brand' and a publisher of regular, entertaining content that has inherent value for a specific community.

Somehow she manages to make it sound so easy, yet very few brands get it right.

Well worth a read.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

5 new examples of brand entertainment in 2009

This is a follow up to my February post - another 5 examples of brand entertainment efforts so far in 2009 (namely campaigns that have launched since Marh 09). These lists are by no means exhaustive, and if there's a big initiative you know of that should be included in this one or the next, please drop me a line or add your comment.

Only in a Womans World

Frito Lay's Only in a Woman’s World, is an online series designed to support a new range of female targeted er---um....chips. It's billed as an initiative that "humorously addresses and even celebrates the universal conflicts women feel" - read guilt around snacking. The campaign has been rolled out across a range of channels. Apart from the webisodes and online destination, it includes more traditional advertising elements such as print advertising.

While criticised for being cliched (it does perhaps take the 'start with your audience' mantra a little too far), audiences seem to have responded, with the videos generating some decent numbers on the Youtube channel (upwards of 500,000 views for the most popular).

Diet Coke and the Little Black Dress

This is a nice local one from my colleagues at Naked in Sydney. For this year's Rosemount Australian Fashion Week, Diet Coke commissioned a group of top Australian designers to re-imagine the 'Little Black Dress' with the classic contour bottle as their starting point. Designers such as Romance was Born, Alice McCall and Alex Perry designed a series of pieces for an exclusive catwalk show. Each of the designers also created their very own 'one off' Diet Coke bottle. This snappy little video from the talented folks at TCO (who produced all the content) says it all - it shows the way the content really amplified the partnership and turned up all over town.

PUMA, Ocean Racing and RipeTV

The PUMA team is competing in the Volvo Ocean Race, which means a gruelling nine months of racing 37,000 nautical miles between Alicante in Spain and St Petersburg. Seriously epic.

This is your classic naming rights sports marketing model, but they've leveraged it well and extended the reach of the partnership through RipeTV's reality based series, social media and mobile.

If you're a mad keen sailor you can read more and follow the trials and tribulations at the PUMA Ocean Racing blog, join the Facebook fan page, watch plenty of videos on the Youtube channel, and peruse the mobile site. They've also set up a dedicated media site (smart).

Married on My Space

Produced by reality giants Endemol, Married on MySpace kicked off in March with a call out to vote for which lucky couple would not only star in their own wedding, but in this 13 part online series. Users voted Elle and Tito as the bride and groom to be, and have since had a hand in all the decisions made along the way - including the wedding dress! The brand integration (talked up mightily in Ad Age) sneaks in pretty naturally through all the decisions that underpin any trip down the aisle - from buying the ring to choosing the location.

Sprite and a green eyed world

Sponsored by Sprite, this interactive reality series invites users to follow a bunch of unknown musicians in their quest for fame and fortune across the seas. The series consists of 5 "seasons", each focused on a different promising young star. Katie Vogel is first up, and you can start the journey with her at home with her family in London.

Users can interact with Katie via Facebook, as well as the Youtube channel. The level of integration between these two environments is quite seamless (and I logged on to Facebook directly via the Youtube page). Fans can add comments directly to the video via an embedded button located on the video itself. These comments then appear in a users Facebook news feed. According to Marketing Vox:

this is reportedly the first time that YouTube has allowed an on-screen prompt - other than annotations and advertising - and is designed to encourage social interaction around content outside of its own modules (i.e., video response, comment section).
The idea doesn't feel new, the content is just OK (and hey who knows whether it will sell soft drinks) but the integration between the two platforms is nice.

Update: Julian Cole of Adspace Pioneers has written a really really useful post with no less than 11 examples of musicians using social media.