“In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way”.
We’re past the tipping point for branded entertainment: it is ‘go-time’. Many brands are attempting to transition from the branded content test kitchen to implementing branded content as a sustainable, strategic component of the marketing mix. Undertaking branded entertainment programmes can feel intimidating, both from a cost and effort perspective. The risk can be high, but the reward opportunity is excellent.
The terms branded entertainment and transmedia are often interchanged in the same conversation. In an attempt to simplify two complex definitions, transmedia is multi-platform storytelling and branded entertainment is the use of entertainment to tell the brand story, with the best programmes living multi-platform.
Using multiple platforms creates more consumer touchpoints, with each touchpoint allowing for a different type of engagement. When it comes to delivering the right message at the right moment, this skill has been mastered throughout the ages of advertising. Mastering transmedia storytelling isn’t too far off, but it requires applying that knowledge to a connective storyline and setting the entertainment factor as a priority. It’s really a matter of thinking like a consumer, and, if you’ll humour me for a moment, more specifically thinking like a Jedi.
Coincidentally, the tipping point for branded entertainment has intersected with the 35th anniversary of the birth of George Lucas’ Star Wars. On May 25th 1977, Star Wars invaded our collective universe, beginning at the box office and making its way to our bookshelves, toy stores, pillow-cases, pyjamas and our transgenerational cultural lexicon.
Many see the Star Wars franchise as the first true transmedia programme. No wonder this all feels so intimidating, are brands meant to deliver a programme equivalent to the size and success of Star Wars, which is still netting approximately $500M a year? Fear not, the potential is there, but it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition.
What we can learn from Star Wars’ transmedia achievement is valuable for brands looking to develop successful branded entertainment, even without attending the real-life Jedi Training Academy at Walt Disney World.
The characters and rules within the storyline are important, but we don’t have to create an entire universe to sell more packs of gum, cars or consulting services. A storyline doesn’t have to be an entire universe, but it should be engaging enough that a message is communicated and an audience is interested in sticking around to the end to find out how it concludes.
Instead, we learn to prioritise entertainment quality, target consumer values and commit to a storyline – one that is custom for the brand – activated across right platforms that give us access to the right consumer touchpoints.
George Lucas didn’t have the technology and social media currently available; expanding his films into novels created his timeline. Imagine if he’d had access to Facebook timeline that organised the story for his audience!
So how do brands use the force to strategically design branded entertainment programmes?
Rather than passively waiting to see if the right property is out there, currently in development by the right production partner or network, brands need to have a game plan, a story and clear objectives. Without oversimplifying, here are some thought starters for the branded entertainment Jedi path:
1. Why are we interested in branded entertainment and what will it accomplish for us in the marketing mix?
Identify the key marketing objectives for the branded entertainment initiative and associated proof-points and measures for success.
2. What story are we telling?
Determine the brand positioning / brand storyline, not just what is the priority for the brand, but what will be compelling to the target audience.
3. What kind of engagement with consumers do we want across each touchpoint?
Identify critical consumer touchpoints, which will then drive the design of the platforms used within the program, helping to shape how the story lives and evolves. The role of the brand will vary depending on the touchpoint, it should be considerate of how the consumer wants to engage in that moment. This doesn’t mean totally backing off of the brand or promotion of a product; some touchpoints are more suited for entertainment and others for transactions.
It can be overwhelming: the jargon, the intricately connected network of the entertainment world. While the right agency of record for branded entertainment can be of critical importance, it’s still ultimately the responsibility of the brand to understand what marketing priorities are to be accomplished with branded entertainment programmes. Even those with experience in executing branded entertainment programs or transmedia storytelling are continually learning and adapting to new technologies and new ways of engaging with audiences.
And as always, may the force be with you.
Abigail Marks is associate director of OgilvyEntertainment, the branded entertainment arm of Ogilvy & Mather, with whom MIPTV has been working on brand-focused panels since 2007 (find all of 2012′s panels here). This is the second in a series of monthly posts, which will also be appearing on TWEED, OgilvyEntertainment’s blog.
Photo: via Adam Crowe on flickr