The success of last summer’s “Transformers” may have launched a lucrative new franchise for DreamWorks and Paramount, but for Hasbro, the movie served as one major promotional platform to sell a lot of toys.

It’s just one of a growing number of branded entertainment projects that have paired up producers in Hollywood with the marketers on Madison Avenue to do one thing: use content to drive commerce.

With consumers overwhelmed by traditional advertising, and a plethora of media outlets and devices fragmenting audiences more and more, brands have little choice but to find new ways to deliver their marketing messages.

That’s meant producing content that shows off their wares at the megaplex, on television, online, in a videogame, through music or in public in a creative way.

The number of projects is increasing at such a rapid rate that the One Club for Art and Copy, a nonprofit org devoted to promoting the ad biz, felt it was time to honor branded entertainment with an awards show — the first time it’s broken out the category into its own event.

The One Show Entertainment Awards take place today at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles. Comedian Bryan Callen will serve as host.

“The advertising industry is an anonymous industry,” says Mary Warlick, CEO of the One Club. “The people who create the work, who conceptualize and produce it, they’re never recognized. It’s important for the people doing it to have a showcase to honor their work.”

But before it could select its honorees, the One Club needed to do what many have considered a difficult task: define branded entertainment.

Over the years, branded entertainment has served as a catchall term placed on everything from pure product placement where, say, a character drives a certain model of car or eats a specific brand of fast food, to programming paid for by a major marketer. Even the people creating it had a hard time defining it.

“We specifically said that this was not about product placement,” Warlick says. “This was about an entertainment vehicle that furthered the position of the brand. We wanted to make a statement to separate this award show from product placement.”

“The people who understand (branded entertainment) best are those that come in with clear objectives,” says Jae Goodman, creative director for CAA Marketing. “A lot of people understand it’s an important space to be in.”

In addition to “Transformers,” the One Club recognized short films from eBay; the Martin Scorsese-helmed short film “The Key to Reserva” for Spanish winemaker Freixenet; film “Somers Town,” produced by U.K. rail line Eurostar; TV projects like Axe’s “Gamekillers,” which ran on MTV and irreverently promoted the body spray; IBM’s Business of Innovation series; McDonald’s Big Mac chant; and OfficeMax’s Elfyourself.com website.

It also spotlights events and installations, like Southern Comfort’s SoCo Music Experience and the transformation of 7-Eleven stores into Kwik-E-Marts from “The Simpsons.”

And the org included worthy entries from around the globes, citing examples from Australia, China, Germany, Japan, Spain and the U.K.

The 26 finalists were whittled down from more than 300 submissions.

The kudos are expected to serve as a sort of educational tool to define the branded entertainment sector.

“So many people say, what’s it about? They want examples,” Warlick says. “We’re giving them the examples.”

Ratings grabbers

So far, audiences are fine with the proliferation of products wherever they look.

On television, there were nearly 205,000 brand occurrences on cable and broadcast networks over the first half of the year, according to the Nielsen Co., with broadcast TV placements growing by almost 12% (although integrations on cable dropped 20% during the same period).

Despite the rise in placements, the shows with the highest number of them are still major ratings grabbers. Reality hits like “American Idol,” “The Biggest Loser,” “Deal or No Deal,” “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” “Hell’s Kitchen” and “America’s Next Top Model” boasted the most placements, with brands from companies like Coca-Cola, 24-Hour Fitness and Ford integrated into the shows.

That’s also true with the gaming space, where studies have shown that gamers accept brand integrations and actually find it odd if products don’t appear in sports or racing games, for example.

The same is not necessarily true at the megaplex.

While “Transformers” succeeded at the B.O., other brand-backed films for which marketers ponied up millions haven’t: Mountain Dew’s “First Descent”; “Gracie,” supported by Pepsi’s Gatorade; and “The Women,” backed by Unilever’s Dove, were B.O. blips.

“It is a high-risk game,” says Jon Kamen, CEO of production shop @radical.media. “We know how tricky the movie business is. Brands have done very well associating with a successful movie, but backing a one-off movie is a high-risk venture.”

Box office disappointments, however, aren’t dissuading brands from creating their own programming — it’ll just be more inexpensive fare that will bow on TV, like Axe’s “Gamekillers” or Suave shampoo’s “In the Motherhood,” which is going from a Web series to ABC.

But most marketers are developing programming exclusively for the Web. Companies like Toyota’s youth brand Scion and luxury line Lexus have recently launched Web-based channels of original programming, while other brands like Burger King are focused on backing programming for sites like YouTube.

“More brands are going to find their way into the intellectual property ownership game,” says Ogilvy Entertainment prexy Doug Scott. “They’re going to realize that the economic model of owning rather than renting will give them a greater return on investment.”


What: One Show Entertainment Awards

When: Today

Where: Paley Center for Media, Los Angeles

Web: oneshowentertainment.org