In this morning’s Wall Street Journal, I read At MTV, a New Show That Pushes Deodorant, which sort of digs at MTV for turning an AXE commercial into a “How to Pick Up Women” TV show. I love it! Come on, noone is being fooled. As a consumer, if I am entertained, informed, or instructed in the art of love, I am totally cool with Branded Entertainment. In fact, I think it is more honest, more transparent, and more realistic.
The only reasons why commercials came into vogue is because sponsoring broadcast TV shows became too expensive. Reality TV and the lower fees for cable again allows entertainment programming to be fully sponsored by the likes of Unilever PLC’s AXE body spray.
Next week, MTV plans to air “The Gamekillers,” a new TV series about young men’s quests to win over women. It may not be obvious to viewers, but the series is also about Unilever PLC’s quest to sell more Axe antiperspirant.
Alert fans might connect the dots. The Axe brand name pops up a few times during certain scenes in the show. Posters put up at certain college campuses say: “An AXE Attractions production The Gamekillers.”
The subtle connections between “Gamekillers” and Axe are the result of a carefully crafted compromise between MTV, which doesn’t want people to think it’s airing an extended deodorant commercial, and Unilever, which wants to peddle more product. It’s a compromise being negotiated increasingly in the entertainment industry nowadays, as a growing number of marketers attempt to subtly promote their products by creating and backing entertainment programs.
Known in the industry as “branded entertainment,” the approach has its roots in early TV advertising. In the 1940s and 1950s, marketers produced shows like the “Colgate Comedy Hour”; the term “soap operas” originated from the soap peddlers who created the daytime fare. Advertiser-produced entertainment faded after production costs soared.
For the past few decades, advertisers bought TV commercials or, more recently, paid TV networks to insert their products into the storyline of a show. But advertisers are increasingly rethinking the value of these approaches. Consumers can easily tune out traditional ads by changing the channel or speeding through commercial breaks with digital video recorders. And placing a product into a program can sometimes appear too obviously a promotional device. The idea of branded content is to create advertising so subtle it won’t alienate potential customers.
Getting “branded entertainment” on the air isn’t easy. While Unilever’s ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty originally envisaged the show as a TV series, the company initially agreed to finance development of a single episode. That one-hour show aired several times last year on MTV, drawing enough of an audience that the Viacom Inc.-owned cable channel agreed to air another five episodes.
Branded entertainment has another big hazard: If it’s too subtle, it could easily go over the heads of viewers. “The No. 1 job of the program is to be good entertainment. But the second big thing is, it has to have a deep connection to the brand,” says Tom Cotton, president of Conductor, an entertainment and marketing firm in Santa Monica, Calif. “That is challenging.”
Facing intensifying competition for ad dollars from the Web, television executives need to please advertisers. Unilever, which markets everything from Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to Dove soap, is one of the world’s biggest advertisers, spending $809 million on ads in the U.S. last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
MTV proved the most open to the idea. The channel had previously worked with Radical Media and advertisers on program development. It also helped that Unilever was already a big advertiser on MTV, spending over $10 million on the network in 2005, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
Not everyone watching the show realized that Aaron’s travails were underwritten by an antiperspirant. Jay Neesanant, a 24-year-old New York recruiter, watched the show three times and had “no idea” it was related in any way to Axe. But he says he doesn’t care. “I want to see more shows and see what other Gamekillers they can come up with,” Mr. Neesanant says.
Unilever says it believes enough consumers got the connection. After the show aired, executives at Edelman, Axe’s public-relations firm, scoured the Internet, searching blogs and Web sites. In less than three months, the “Gamekillers” group page on MySpace had attracted 75,000 friends; the “Gamekillers” Web site, which also tied the show to Axe Dry, attracted 1.4 million unique visitors. Based on that, Unilever believes that the show helped its related ad campaign boost Axe Dry’s sales by 60% in 2006.
With the first show a success, MTV has loosened its position on the next five half-hour episodes, the first of which debuts Sept. 21. The new episodes include mentions of the brand — for example, the male contestants will vie for the chance for their name to be added on an Axe-branded trophy. And Axe was also allowed to put up posters at college campuses that carry the name Axe and tell readers where to tune in for an upcoming episode.
Now Unilever is making content development a bigger part of its marketing playbook. “I would say almost every major brand we have has some type of content play,” says Laura Klauberg, Unilever’s global media chief.
Via the Wall Street Journal
I have written many posts about my belief that Madison Avenue needs to stop being ashamed of selling product and needs to just get out there, loud and proud, and return to the world of corporate-sponsored content that ruled the radio back in the 30s. Live Commercials are the New Black for Television, Purina ONE is Role Model for Word-Of-Mouth Marketing, Product Placement on the Down Low, A Return to Sponsored Programming ala Radio Shows.
There is a great little piece on AdJab in which Chris Thilk does a “duh” and gets that his prediction, “programs would be solely sponsored by one buyer,” is old school, “This is the ad model from old-time radio. Jack Benny had Canada Dry, Chevy and others as year-long sponsors of his radio program.”
I know! I know! I listen to the Big Broadcast every Sunday night.
It is time to return to what works, when you can share the “inside joke” with your audience that a lot of what is going on on the show is to sppease the sponsor.
A little bit of fun on the sponsor’s expense show the viewers that the sponsor is big, funloving, harmless, and can take a joke.
That the corporate sponsore is just a regular guy.
To me, embedding products deep into the show so that they don’t glare just means the industry is becoming more sophisticated and not more covert. It is not about sneaking message so much as it about not inconveniencing the viewer. It is about giving more than you take. It is all about flow, seamlessness, mediadynamics.
I love product placement because it reminds me of the radio shows of the 30s and 40s, which I love. Why should there be any shame surrounding product placement? I honestly believe that most people don’t care. Those who do, live in the urban centers and are loud and obnoxious. Ignore them.
In the radio shows, there was a level of healthy and straight forward communication that Madison Avenue no longer employs:
I honestly believe that someone with a lot of influence and charm has sold Madison Avenue that the only way to advertise and market is delivering client message using subliminals and NLP — the kind that is supposed to register on the subconscious level.
Then, after a while of spinning a warm, charming, yarn, they reveal that it wasn’t until Purina One that their really stopped shedding, started acting like a puppy again, started having a glow, and began to have clear and shiny doggie eyes!
It is such a fantastic testimony by each men and I love listening to each of the respective emotional break in their respective radio announcer’s voice when they offer this heart felt Purina One testimonial. And then, we find out that we don’t have to take their word for it, we can call 888-606-BARK for a free 6.5 pound bag of Purina One Natural Blends dog food.
Do I feel betrayed? Used? No! I love it.
There is a sweet old world charm as though I were suddenly thrust into the Jack Benny Program. There is a lightness of being in their respective stories that don’t require me to care about the advertising or care about the salesmanship, it is the fact that these men are really likeable and we trust them and listen to them and hey, you have to pay the bills and we would rather enjoy their charm and warmth (and they do own dogs, after all — it isn’t a lie!) than the awful commercial breaks.
We hate these commercial breaks. We would rather our sweet DJ, our sweet host, hock the free 6.5 pound bag of Purina One Natural Blends dog food than leave it to someone we don’t know.
I would love to know who is handling the campaign but if you are within the sound of my blog, call me and offer me a job. I will take it!
According the the Wall Street Journal this AM, NBC Hopes Live Spot Puts Life Into Ads, “To fight the challenge posed by TiVo, NBC is borrowing a tactic from television’s early days — live commercials.” Back in April 15, 2005, I wrote an article, Product Placement on the Down Low, about how product placement and advertising needs to stop being so sneaky, so on the down low. (via Marketing Conversation)
“I love product placement because it reminds me of the radio shows of the 30s and 40s, which I love. Why should there be any shame surrounding product placement? I honestly believe that most people don’t care. Those who do, live in the urban centers and are loud and obnoxious. Ignore them.
In the radio shows, there was a level of healthy and straight forward communication that Madison Avenue no longer employs:
the price of this free entertainment is having sponsors, selling products and services (Horlicks, anyone?), promoting upcoming movies (why else would the stars be there?), and the like.“
David Letterman has been doing a lot of this on his show and I find it hilarious. I feel like I am complicit with the agenda: selling goods, having fun, leveraging our trust in Dave, and getting yet another skit, which is what we watch late night TV for anyway. Again, from Product Placement on the Down Low:
“To me, embedding products deep into the show so that they don’t glare just means the industry is becoming more sophisticated and not more covert. It is not about sneaking message so much as it about not inconveniencing the viewer. It is about giving more than you take. It is all about flow, seamlessness, mediadynamics.
I love product placement because it reminds me of the radio shows of the 30s and 40s, which I love. Why should there be any shame surrounding product placement? I honestly believe that most people don’t care. Those who do, live in the urban centers and are loud and obnoxious. Ignore them.”
At some point back in the 50s, the entire Madison Avenue “science of advertising” took the broadcasting world by storm. Instead of having an entire program sponsored by one corporate sponsor such as Horlicks, the model changed into a advertising blight of the 30-second and 60-second commercial spot. More from Product Placement on the Down Low:
“I honestly believe that someone with a lot of influence and charm has sold Madison Avenue that the only way to advertise and market is delivering client message using subliminals and NLP — the kind that is supposed to register on the subconscious level.”
The reincarnation of the sponsored program, the up-front sponsored testimonial, and the transparent product placement — the evolution towards integrated, live, transparent, and testimonial advertisements — was again heralded by radio. Again. I noticed this happening years ago, beginning with conservative and AM talk radio.
Back in April 7, 2006, I wrote an article that addressed these spots — I love them! The article, Purina ONE is Role Model for Word-Of-Mouth Marketing, discusses the aggressive and effective radio testimonial campaign that Purina One Natural Blends dog food shoe horns so elegantly and sentimentally into the radio shows of two radio shows I loved back in 2006, the Glen Beck Program and Jack Diamond Morning Show.
The final paragraph of the Wall Street Journal article says it best:
“We have killed and mauled the golden goose of commercial breaks,” says TV historian and author Tim Brooks. “For a long time, the audience has put up with it, but now they have the ability to dodge commercial breaks, so networks can’t get away with it any more.”