First awards set for branded entertainment

One Show event honors creative excellence in new field

Branded business: Living in the age of TiVo technology that lets viewers zap their way through commercial clutter on television, the business of branded entertainment is taking on new importance to Hollywood.

A good indication of how much growth there's been on the branded content front is the fact that there's now an awards show to honor creativity in the field. The first One Show Entertainment Awards are set for Oct. 7 at The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills with a panel of judges including entertainment industry figures like director Brett Ratner and "Mad Men" creator/executive producer Matt Weiner. One Show awards have honored excellence in advertising for over 30 years, but this is the first time they've been held outside New York and the first time they've focused exclusively on the new arena of branded entertainment.

Among the finalists whose branded activities are up for consideration are such companies as MTV, Adidas, Coca-Cola, HBO, Nike and Freixenet. The winning entries in addition to being awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze Pencils will be added to The Paley Center's collection of over 140,000 television and radio programs, ads and new media content.
For some insights into where branded entertainment is going and what it means to Hollywood, I spoke recently to Mary Warlick, producer of the awards show and chief executive officer of the New York-based The One Club, which presents them. Warlick was co-curator of the acclaimed exhibit "The Real Men and Women of Madison Avenue," which broke attendance records at the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library this summer. She's currently finalizing plans to bring that exhibit to the Pacific Design Center in L.A.

"The number of pieces geared toward branded entertainment have really shifted the business model. I'm talking about the shift in power from those who make and distribute entertainment products to those who consume them," Warlick told me. "Essentially, it's a 'pull generation' that we're looking to reach. The task at hand has been to reach an audience that has essentially tuned out or that has been empowered to tune out and may or may not be receptive to the message your brand has."

Once you've managed to reach them, she continued, "your job is to entertain them long enough so they will listen to a message about your product or brand. When I speak of a 'pull generation,' they're pulling messages to them. Our entertainment system is set up now so you can really tune out if you want to. It used to be that if you wanted to watch the 6:30 news you had to be home on the couch at 6:30 in front of your TV. But now you have a wide array of options. You have the web news bytes (and) headlines on your Blackberry or your iPhone. You can record the evening news and (watch) it any time you want to or you can simply tune in to a 24-hour cable (news) network.

"Rather than messaging by intruding into the house, your branded message has to be invited in. We can call branded entertainment 'invitation only.' The person the advertiser is trying to reach (is in many cases) multi-tasking. They have the television on. They're surfing the web. And at the same time she is probably text messaging her friends about what she's about to buy. This is a whole new model. Reaching this new consumer -- this sort of elusive consumer -- is what branded entertainment is about."

There also are ways in which brands can work with movies, Warlick noted, citing the short film "The Key to Reserva," directed by and starring Martin Scorsese, which was made for the sparkling Spanish wine Freixenet. The film, which runs about five minutes, has its roots in classic Hitchcock suspense thrillers like "North by Northwest" and "The Man Who Knew Too Much." As a long-time Hitchcock buff, I enjoyed it very much and thought Scorsese really captured the essence of Hitchcock's style. If you click here you can see this and some other good examples of branded entertainment on One Show Entertainment's website:

"For movies, the original trendsetter was BMW Films online," Warlick pointed out. "That really was the quintessential introduction of branded entertainment. They were short films shot by great directors (like) Ang Lee, Guy Ritchie, the late John Frankenheimer. They were only available online. They didn't run on television until much later. In other words, you had to go to the website and download to see these films. And they were engaging and exciting enough that people did it. It wasn't about product placement. It wasn't about James Bond driving the M Series (from BMW)."

As a good example of branded entertainment involving mainstream movies, Warlick pointed to "'Transformers' (the 2007 blockbuster from DreamWorks and Paramount directed by Michael Bay and starring Shia LaBeouf), which sold a lot of toys for Hasbro. Hasbro knew what they were doing, but I think the (tremendous) success of that film both as an action movie and as a launch vehicle for these toys probably surprised everybody."

"Transformers" grossed $319.2 million domestically and $389 million internationally for a worldwide cume of $708.2 million. A sequel, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," is scheduled to open next June 26, reteaming Bay and LaBeouf.

Asked about product placement, in which companies pay money to get their products shown in scenes in movies and television shows, Warlick explained, "It is still going on, but it's not part of branded entertainment. One Show Entertainment is specifically drawing the distinction between entertainment either in film, gaming or theatrical releases that furthers the position of a brand rather than simply a visual or gratuitous product placement because, let's face it, the consumer is too sophisticated. They (can) zap it (with a TiVo-type device or) they could tune it out. There are successful product placements, but branded entertainment is about entertainment that the brand essentially serves as a vehicle for (itself)."

How does the brand benefit? "With BMW Films, it was able to reach a target audience that was not receptive to 30-second television commercials," she replied. "Hasbro certainly (introduced) the toys and gave them a tremendous creative spotlight. Branded entertainment is successful for the brand. (Another example is) the TV series 'The Gamekillers,' which is produced by Unilever for AXE deodorant for young men. That gave (the brand) a long exposure in a very witty reality show that is a sexy show (on MTV) for the target audience. You know, 25 to 30 year old men are not always in front of their television sets."

Branded entertainment, she added, "is weaving a brand into the content. It's not interrupting the programming. It is the programming. And when it's done well, it's done very, very well. Some of the most creative people in the advertising industry and in the entertainment industry are joining forces (to create branded entertainment) and the teamwork and the partnering is turning out a really terrific strong product."

Should Hollywood be doing more branded entertainment deals? "I think they will be," Warlick answered. "I think it's a way to, perhaps, lessen some of the production costs if they share this with a (branded entertainment) client. And I think it's an opportunity to come with original storylines, as well, that they haven't thought of yet. Every movie is its own unique product. Clients can bring more to the table than simply screenplays. It would work in the way that 'Transformers' worked or in the way that the mini-movie for Freixenet worked. There's also 'installations' and there's also gaming. Branded entertainment exists across several different media."

"Installations," she explained, "would be like what HBO did in New York (when it) set up a projection on a wall where you could be a voyeur and see different scenes going on in people's living rooms and then you go to a website and follow the story. HBO was positioning themselves as the ultimate storytellers. HBO was the brand and this was a very sophisticated, interactive 'installation' or projection against a wall and people stood and watched it for hours. This was done downtown in lower Manhattan."

Looking at some of the branded entertainment projects that are competing in the One Show awards, Warlick said, "For unscripted television, there was a reality show (in China) that was put on by Nike called 'Basketball Disciple.' It was similar to 'American Idol' where people would compete and the winners would get to go home with Kobe. He became their mentor, their coach. Another example was a campaign (for the scripted series 'Welcome Snoop') run by MTV Networks in Australia for Snoopy Dog. He wasn't going to be let into the country and then there was a whole series of snippets saying 'Vote for Snoopy to get citizenship in Australia.' Freixenet's 'The Key to Reserva' (is a nominee in the category for integration of branded content in a first-time theatrical or DVD release). Hasbro's 'Transformers' (is nominated in the same theatrical category).

"And there are documentaries. There's an interesting Navistar documentary (International LoneStar's 'Drive and Deliver'). And some of the really neat stuff is the online branded entertainment, which are pieces that aren't run in theaters or on television but actually exist only online (for such brands as Adidas, American Express, Burger King, M&M's, Nokia, Toyota and Unilever)."

There's also an awards category for online gaming to honor websites or banners that incorporate a brand as an integral component of a videogame. Among the nominees are Coca-Cola, Gatorade and American Express. Another awards category celebrates the integration of a brand in a music environment intended for commercial release with such nominees as Apple, Coca-Cola and McDonalds.

"The One Show is really proud to be the first to do this," Warlick observed. "I'm sure other awards shows will follow, but we recognize creative excellence in advertising and we recognize creative excellence in design and interactive and we're excited to be recognizing creative excellence in branded entertainment. It's important that we raise the standards of creative excellence. It's important that we understand there is a distinction between branded entertainment and product placement. And it's important to understand that this field is just in the beginning  -- and it's going to grow."

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