Five ways to supercharge your product integration strategy

Traditional ads aren't reaching selective audiences, says Branded Entertainment Network's VP of Global Client Services.

Consumers are becoming increasingly selective about their media consumption and are actively looking for ways to avoid advertisements and enjoy content, uninterrupted. Over 65 percent of U.S. households now subscribe to non ad-supported streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, with more than 60 percent of them preferring these platforms to cable or satellite. Furthermore, over 75 percent of Netflix subscribers cite the lack of commercials as a main reason behind their preference. 

It doesn’t stop there. According to a recent study conducted by Level 3 Communications and Unisphere Research, nearly 70 percent of media industry professionals believe that viewing hours on streaming platforms will exceed those on broadcast TV by 2022 or even sooner. In this new and rapidly changing media landscape, it’s vital to take a step back and look for proven and measurable ways to elevate your brand in a way that accounts for today’s viewership preferences: appearing within content, rather than alongside it.

Advertising in 2017 affords brands far more channels to incorporate their message and, with more of a premium placed on authenticity, it’s clear that brands have more opportunity than ever to work closely with content producers to create integrations that move plotlines and can easily change from on-screen and off-screen. In doing so, they can embark on a product integration journey that comprises both mass reach and targeted audiences while maintaining authenticity within a storyline.

Today, leading global marketers including Microsoft, Dyson, GM, Zillow, Heineken and Bose have successfully incorporated product integrations into their marketing mix. Here are five best practices brands must consider when integrating into content in order to avoid offending viewers with over-the-top branded moments that break the connection between program and audience.

Make sure you have a clear sense of brand, show and audience.
Don't just leap for the first content opportunity that presents itself. Consider what constitutes the right show based on your brand values, competitive positioning or target demographic.

The best product integrations align platform, program, story and character in order to reach the right audience in the right way at the right moment of time. You need to think of the program’s show characters as representative of your target sales demographics, as well as considering on what platform the content is being delivered, which of course affects how your audience is going to consume it. Above all, think of the program itself and how your product can meaningfully align with its story at a specific point in time.

Honor a brand’s heritage and history within the proper context.
There are legacy brands with histories that go back generations. Ray-Ban is the quintessential "cool sunglass brand." The classic Wayfarers were worn by Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" while she stared into the window of the shop. A character on the outskirts of society, both whimsical and mysterious in nature, Holly Golightly is one of the most iconic film and literary characters in history.

Jumping ahead a few years and the film industry produced another iconic film character and scene–pairing again with Ray-Ban. While some may not have seen "Risky Business," many are familiar with the white shirt, underwear, socks and Wayfarers scene. One need not have seen the film to understand how cool Tom Cruise looked in his Ray-Bans as he ran wild in his parent-free home for one weekend.

Playing up their reputation as a sunglasses brand for those on the care-free side, they inserted themselves into two of the most iconic film scenes in history. Three plus decades from that scene, and Ray-Ban is still considered the sunglasses choice for the care-free and rebellious soul.

Look for ways to achieve creative consensus.
Successful integrations are created when the brand becomes an organic part of the storyline without overshadowing the creative. This does not happen without collaboration. Connectivity and ongoing conversations with producers, writers, prop masters, talent and others create a shared understanding among stakeholders and ensure all are aligned in the creative process.

Pepsi and "Empire" did this fantastically well. The show dedicates an entire arc to Jamal pursuing and securing an endorsement deal with Pepsi, an integration that even resulted in a real commercial being filmed on the show by Empire director Lee Daniels. The outcome was a creative piece of content that aired both on the show and as a real commercial between episodes. Brands and showrunners must develop mutual respect and understand each other’s business and end goals in order to be most effective. 

Think about both future and legacy.
Product integrations take time to deliver. Programming is essential, even on non-ad supported platforms. The message you want to deliver about your brand today also needs to be relevant in several months’ time. It’s also important to remember popular content could have a lasting shelf life. One must think about the legacy of integrations and whether, in years to come, it will still stand the test of time. Will you have positioned the brand in a positive light, helping to make the brand feel part of a zeitgeist?

Think beyond individual integrations to your broader reputation.
This is directed at both brands and producers. As products have reputations with their consumers, so does a show and its central characters with their audience.

Look at the example of Heinz Ketchup’s "Pass the Heinz" campaign as featured in "Mad Men." Known for his talent, Don Draper’s skills resulted in a series of real advertisements for the condiment company based on his fictitious campaign. While the ad was not picked up on the show, Heinz did in fact select Draper’s ad. Its use of imagery most reflected the brand’s reputation, a great condiment for American classics: hamburgers, french fries and hot dogs.

The rules for a successful product integration that resonates with both mass audiences and targeted audiences are quite similar. Maintaining authenticity to a brand ‘s reputation and a show’s central storyline and tone are the keys to success. Consumers remember an integration that rang true for a character’s storyline or that gave them a chance to feel like they’ve actively participated in a part of their favorite show or movie.

Erin Schmidt serves as Vice President of Global Client Services at Branded Entertainment Network.

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