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Does Branded Integration Really Work?

Thanks to Randall Beard, EVP and General Manager – Nielsen, for sharing this week’s guest post…

Instead of using your own content marketing to surround and reinforce your brand, what if you put someone else’s TV program content around it instead?  Branded

Integrations, done right, use TV program content to drive your brand.  The problem, though, is that most Branded Integrations come about by happenstance and not by use of proven tools and techniques.  Here’s how to successfully use Branded Integrations as part of your Content Marketing portfolio.

Branded Integration – A Short History

Branded Integration has a long history, arguably as old as publishing itself.  The Lifesavers brand was integrated into the 1932 Groucho Marx movie “Horsefeathers,” and Spielberg’s “E.T.” featured the first paid candy integration: Reese’s Pieces.  National Geographic had a starring role in the 1946 movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Procter & Gamble and Unilever sponsored soap operas continued the trend.  More recently, companies have taken branded integrations even further with video games and even programs designed around TV commercial characters (Geico Cavemen).

Given this long history, it should come as no surprise that Branded Integration is big business:  PQ Media estimated 2006 product placement at $3.1B.

Is This A Good Idea ?

Being big and being good aren’t always the same thing.  Does Branded Integration really work?  Certainly, the large spending would lead you to think so.  However, the usual process for developing branded entertainment – haphazard and creative driven – often leaves something to be desired.  A branded entertainment company executive once explained the process something like this:

“The studio sends us a script.  We break it down.  We look for our clients demographics and then we tell our client this movie is available with this actor, with this director, with this producer, do you want it?”

Is this really the way companies should be deciding to spend $3.1B a year?

What Really Drives Branded Integration Results?

There are four keys to making Branded Integration work as Content Marketing for your brand:

1.  Choose the Right TV Shows

The best way to get high brand recall and brand opinion shift from your Branded Integration is to pick a show that fits with your brand and has high scores historically for Branded Integrations.  Predictive models which isolate the factors most impacting brand recall, opinion shift, and fit with brand generally show that over 50% of the models’ variation are driven by TV show selection. Fortunately for Marketers, there are now syndicated panels which measure TV program Branded Integration effectiveness – so you can know a program’s track record ahead of time.

2. Design the Most Impactful Integration

Having selected the right genre and program for your integration, don’t just rely on the network and agency to tell you what the integration will look like.

You need to negotiate for what really works.  And what works, based on predictive modeling, is the following:

  • Involve Your Brand Longer – The duration of the integration makes a big difference; longer is better
  • Visualize Your Brand Icon – Don’t accept just an audio appearance; your brand needs to be visualized
  • Have Your Product Touched or Worn – It’s key to have characters physically interact with your product
  • Connect Your Brand to a Main Character – Physical interaction is good, but interaction with the main star is even better

These factors have been proved through research to be the most important creative factors in determining brand integration recall and positive brand opinion shift.  Make sure that your execution includes them.

3. Advertise Your Brand During the Program

This seems obvious but is often overlooked.  Nielsen IAG research shows that ads aired during a program with the same brand integration generally score better for recall, branding and likeability than the same ads aired outside the Branded Integration program.  Said simply, there really is “synergy” between your Branded Integration and your ad in the same program.

4.  Execute Branded Integration in Multiple Shows in a Season

Continuity is key.  If possible, negotiate for a series based branded integration, instead of an episode. Why?  Having a Branded Integration in previous episodes of the same series raises brand recall and brand opinion by about 1% per previous episode – for example, take Subway’s series integration in NBC’s “Chuck.”

Subway’s integration in NBC’s “Chuck” not only increased sales, but saved the series.

Where Should Marketers Focus?

Adding Branded Integrations to your content marketing portfolio provides another way to drive engagement with your brand (for more see “Build Your Brand with Content Marketing“).  But, don’t just walk blindly into it.  Choose the right programs, design the integration for greatest impact, advertise during the program and deliver integration consistently for maximum impact.

So the next time your Agency calls with their next “BIG” branded integration idea, do your brand a favor.  Ask the tough questions: Why is this the right show?  How will the execution optimize impact?  What’s the proposal for integrating my ads?  Is this part of a longer deal?  Most importantly, negotiate from a position of  strength:  use historical data and learnings about what really drives Branded Integration success to add another powerful element to your Content Marketing mix.