Clients are learning they can't upstage star or storyline

Branded entertainment is bad news for clients that like to call all the shots — but good news for production companies, which report less tension on the set than on commercial shoots.

The trick to avoiding any snags, producers say, is to make sure everyone in the client camp has signed off before cameras start rolling — and for clients to remember that entertainment value is more important than a gleaming product shot or pithy slogan.

“The sponsor can never upstage storyline, star or plot,” says Jim Rink, a former TV producer who moved into “advertainment” four years ago. “In the commercial world, the sponsor is the star.”

Good branded entertainment is less about conveying a message than giving viewers a feeling about the brand, stresses @radical.media president Frank Scherma, who emphasizes, “It’s not an infomercial.”

Sponsored programming harks back to early days of television, but has only recently regained favor with clients seeking alternate ways to reach consumers. Yet clients are still getting accustomed to giving up some control.

Another major difference is that spot advertisers pay for time, so they can dictate whether their commercials run on, say, “Lost” or “Damages.” When clients sponsor branded entertainment, however, there’s no guaranteed placement. It must fit the cable company’s or network’s brand in addition to that of the client.

Rink says sponsors are hungry for advertainment but concedes that they’re still adjusting to the new dynamic. “Some people embrace it, others do not,” he observes

Michael Di Girolamo, partner and executive producer of Station Films, maintains that the tension between creativity and client control is greater in traditional advertising than in sponsored programming. He also notes his production company rarely runs into problems. In most cases it receives scripts from agencies after clients have already signed off on them.

Such was the case with “Clean Your Balls,” a tongue-in-cheek video starring Jaime Pressly that relies on risque double entendres to promote Axe Detailer, a cleaning tool. The goal with branded entertainment, Di Girolamo says, is to be as subversive as possible.

“At the end of the day, it does give you more leeway to be creative,” he says. “You all join hands together and jump off the cliff.”

Jae Goodman, co-head and chief creative officer of CAA Marketing, says clients and agencies have grown more creative with branded entertainment out of necessity. Even before the economy got worse, he notes, viewers were tuning out traditional ads.

Goodman, chairman of judges for the second One Show Entertainment Awards today at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles, says creativity is on full display in the submissions.

One candidate, for example, managed to find humor in drunk driving — not an easy thing to do.

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