Defining branded entertainment is tough enough. But judging it might be even harder.
“It’s taken awhile to grasp just what branded entertainment is because a body of work needed to be established,” says Doug Scott, prexy of Ogilvy Entertainment. “It’s very much about original entertainment from the ground up, where the brand essence and message and DNA is carried forward in the storyline.”
To determine that, the One Club turned not only to Scott but to a slew of producers, publishers and advertising agency execs to determine the best branded entertainment projects over the last year for its One Show Entertainment Awards.
Among them, it tapped”Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner; director Brett Ratner; Variety prexy and publisher Neil Stiles; and Entertainment Weekly publisher Scott Donaton, who also penned the book “Madison & Vine.”
From the traditional Madison Avenue side of the biz, One chose BBDO North America topper David Lubars, who produced the BMW films; Tim Roper, VP and creative director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky; Jon Kamen, chairman and CEO of @radical.media; David Droga, creative chairman of Droga5; and Kevin Townsend, founder of Science + Fiction.
They had to pick winners among nine categories, ranging from movies to live installations that were produced by brands such as the Coca-Cola Co., eBay, Hasbro, IBM, OfficeMax, Toyota, Adidas, Nissan and Nike, among others.
If there’s any consensus among the judges, it’s that the projects can’t seem like blatant advertising.
“The majority of the finalists achieved the challenge of balancing entertainment and marketing where you don’t feel that you are watching an ad,” Scott says.
After all, that’s supposed to be the point of creating entertainment in the first place, whether a brand made it or not.
It still has to be good entertainment, judges say.
That’s especially true when it comes to targeting younger consumers.
Ratner, who launched Brett Ratner Brands in May as a consultancy to help brands infuse pop culture into their marketing efforts and created a campaign for Activision’s “Guitar Hero” game, says branded entertainment is “all about connecting with audiences through the use of storytelling. Young people today are sensitive to being sold to. They sense when that happens and don’t respond to it.”
Judges also look for other elements as well.
The best branded entertainment projects are those that don’t just live in one medium, industryites say. It can be viewed on TV, for example, but it needs to encourage viewers to then head to a store or at least log onto a website. It needs to utilize multiple forms of media to generate the results the brand is looking for.
“It comes down to the question of, ‘How do we touch the consumer as quickly and in as many ways as possible in order to drive preference in the short attention span that consumers have?” Scott says.
Essentially, it comes down to how that company can measure success.
“It’s about brand lift, brand shift, brand awareness,” Scott says.
That can happen no matter what the medium — one reason why the One Club includes live events and installations in its branded entertainment categories.
One finalist ended up being 20th Century Fox’s pact with 7-Eleven to turn the company’s convenience stores into Kwik-E-Marts, as seen in “The Simpsons,” to promote the series’ feature-length toon.
“7-Eleven became a truly immersive branded entertainment experience as a result,” Scott says.
If 7-Eleven garnered praise, so did several other projects like Nissin Cup Noodles’ “Freedom Project,” which has become a popular anime series in Japan and on YouTube in the U.S.
“It’s something you want to watch,” says one judge. “They’re selling DVDs, and they’re making money from it.”
IBM’s “Business of Innovation” TV series also was recommended for its promotion of the technology company as an innovator instead of touting its products.
The judges also certainly know what they don’t like.
“I’m not a big fan of product placement,” Kamen says. “I’m offended as an audience member when a phone or a product with its enlarged logo is shoved in my face. We all accept life, but when magically every logo is turned in the right position, that’s not natural.”
Either way, judges say an awards show like the One Club’s spotlight on branded entertainment projects is needed to help Hollywood and Madison Avenue produce better projects in the future.
“We have to treat consumers like an audience again and engage them and not just constantly confront them with commercial messaging,” Kamen says. “By putting (branded entertainment) on a pedestal, it’s at least exposing people to the better things in the category. We need to educate ourselves as an industry.”