Branded Entertainment in the Age of Ad Blockers

By Karen Kehm, Senior Director of Marketing

Keeping consumers happy and engaged with your brand is no small feat in the age of ad blockers and personal data breaches like the recent Meta-Cambridge Analytica situation. The level of frustration and cynicism on the part of consumers has reached a fever pitch, and marketers are anxiously seeking new methods and vehicles to mitigate the impact of bad, intrusive ads and other shoddy brand messaging. Or in the case of brand integration, advertisers are reprioritizing a practice that many have engaged with or at least been aware of but never committed to exploring.


In a lively and informative panel with industry experts in branded entertainment, led by Adweek’s Senior Editor, Creative,  Doug Zanger, it was revealed that many misconceptions surround brand integration.  Logically enough, brand integrations in film & TV, as well as other platforms, have been empirically established as one of the best ways to reach audiences where they want to be reached, yet, it is an ongoing struggle to convince marketing executives of their worth, according to the panel.   “Brands need to always remember that integrations have to be organic and actually enhance the storytelling,” said Will Park, BEN’s Director Brand Integration.  “It can’t feel like the typical commercial or it will just turn consumers off.”


Examples of bad practices include having actors clumsily hold or use the product in a manner that seems forced.  Authenticity is vital in showcasing a brand whether it is a soft drink or a car.    Nathan Tan, Associate Director, Brand Partnerships & Experiences at General Motors’ Cadillac, takes it a step further.  Instead of just retrofitting his models into a finished script, he also tries as much as possible to influence and inspire the creative process. Mr. Tan told the panel audience that he keeps a nondescript California warehouse to showcase to creators early stage Cadillac prototypes slated 10-15 years out. Mr. Tan’s commitment to collaborate with creators and not just act as a financier with profit participation on the backend is a natural evolution of Cadillac’s approach to strategic integration.


Michelle Anderson, Senior Specialist, Brand Marketing & Partnerships, of online real estate site, Zillow, also believes in fostering creator relationships from the incubation stages, specifically in niche, often indie productions. “Because Zillow is by definition an intangible product, it presents inherent challenges for integration that other more visual products don’t face, which is why it’s important to be a partner at the beginning of the creative development process,” said Ms. Anderson.


Both Cadillac and Zillow can only be as successful as their collaborators are willing.  G. Mac Brown, Producer of “The Departed,” “Billions” and “St. Vincent” and Lou Fusaro, Producer of “Californication”, “Ray Donovan” and “House of Lies”, are two entertainment execs, who preach the same gospel as Mr. Tan and Ms. Anderson.  Both gentlemen stressed that relationships between brands and entertainment cannot just be transactional. They believe a strategic partnership that features true collaboration and perseverance with calculated risk-taking is the recipe for success.


This panel was preceded by a fireside chat between BEN’s Chief Product & Marketing Officer, Greg Isaacs, and Lance Lohman, VP Research, Media Analytics, Nielsen. The conversation covered a wide range of topics including the ever-shifting media consumption habits of consumers, marked by the emergence of streaming content and influencer content as two hot new modes of consumer engagement, eclipsing the dominance of historical mediums like broadcast television and advertising.   Mr. Lohman pointed out that people are increasingly inclined to avoid ads altogether.  “Younger generations such as Gen Z are used to just content on demand.  They are not used to viewing commercials.”


As a result, 92% of top shows had integrations as brands have funneled an estimated spend of $11.2 billion across channels. One notable element of this trend is as integration dollars are increasing, much of the budgets are moving to digital platforms instead.  As the media landscape gets increasingly complex, brands are clamoring for more accurate and useful measurement of the branded entertainment/integration space. BEN and Nielsen are collaborating to crack the code on quantifying the value of integrations that evaluates the breadth of factors including placement and brand mention.  Mr. Lohman said that Nielsen’s ambitions are to scale their brand integration measurement offerings on a syndicated basis.


As Mr. Zanger enthusiastically noted, there is a lot of enthusiasm and best-of-class work that is fueling greater ambitions at the cross-section of marketing/advertising and entertainment.  It will be fun for everyone at the BEN event and beyond to track where this all goes.