• Understanding "Branded Entertainment"

    At the OMMA Video Summit yesterday in NYC, I moderated a panel entitled "Branded Entertainment." Readers of VideoNuze know that I have been tracking brand marketers' varied broadband initiatives which are whittling away traditional demarcations between advertising and content. Broadband is opening up a whole new frontier for brands to engage their audiences.

    We had a stellar group of panelists who have been on the front lines of branded entertainment, including three from agencies (Jeremy Lockhorn from Avenue A Razorfish, Joe Frydl from Ogilvy Entertainment and John McCarus from Digitas/The Third Act) and two from independent video sites making a strong push into this area (Rob Barnett from MyDamnChannel and Peter Hoskins from ManiaTV).

    The whole area of branded entertainment is still in its infancy, meaning different things to different people. The panel's consensus was that these projects must provide "entertaining consumer experiences in which brands receive 'permission' to market their products." Joe, who's produced the Hellmann's "Real Food" campaign (now back for its second season on Yahoo), emphasized the importance of presenting content that's authentic to the brand while also finding partners who can deliver big audiences.

    Those partners can vary as John mentioned that in a recent 45 webisode series it created for Holiday Inn Express, 90% of the series' views came from 10% of its overall distribution sites and that these were mainly smaller outlets. That sparked a consensus that when picking distribution partners, those with narrower but more passionate audiences were preferred to larger, but less focused outlets. Peter and Rob both noted that there smaller size and focused audiences allow them work more closely with brands to tailor content for their audiences' interests.

    That synched up with advice from Jeremy (and seconded by others) that when it comes to branded entertainment, brands must be involved from the start of the creative process. Content companies still tend to look upon brands as little more than checkbooks, with products to be written into scenes after the creative is essentially complete. That bias needs to change fast if branded entertainment is to succeed. To increase the odds of success, Peter noted that ManiaTV focuses on episodic content, as consumer relationships build slowly over time.

    The role of agencies is certain to change as branded entertainment gets more traction. Since it's still so early, panelists concurred that agencies need to "embrace ambiguity" and focus on "earning attention, not buying attention" for their clients. Listening to the panelists, it seemed to me that agencies looking to operate successfully in this area will also need significant business development/partnership skills as pulling distribution into these campaigns is quite important.

    Branded entertainment is yet another greenfield opportunity that broadband is opening up. Given how many agencies and others are setting up branded entertainment specialty units, it's certain to get more priority by brands.