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How brands like Heineken can successfully integrate into entertainment

Heineken - Skyfall

Creatives have long used brands to act as short-hand in communicating to their audience. A brand can be a connector to a character, cueing us into their personality, social status or other key elements the audience needs to know.

For example, costume designers lean into fashion brands to illustrate a character, while a transportation coordinator may rely on an automotive brand to serve as an extension of the character, for example, to demonstrate their profession. A particular beverage sipped by a character can speak volumes about their status and taste.

While these product integrations rarely make the end credits, those vital stakeholders in wardrobe, props, technology, set design and transportation are the people entrusted in making sure that the vision of the film or show makers is fulfilled in the end product. Consequently, the use of a particular brand within a show or film will always be carefully considered by these specialists, in addition to sign-off by the producer, studio and/or network.

Savvy brand marketers working in Hollywood understand the value of recognizing the many contributors in filmmaking and how they play a critical role in product integration. To be successful in Hollywood as a brand, it’s important to understand the needs of production, the vision of the filmmakers and how the brand can be a solution, or of additive value to the project.

With the advent and subsequent adoption of skip-through technology and migration to SVOD, more and more brands are recognizing the limitations of traditional advertising and are hence seeking collaborations within the content itself versus surrounding the content. However, navigating the production ecosystem can be difficult for brands across all entertainment platforms, which is where an experienced agency can provide support, using their their contacts and connections to shepherd a brand through the process.

Ignore any perception of backdoor deals, though; a successful integration for a brand relies upon transparency amongst all partners. For example, it’s vital to communicate objectives and brand sensitivities with the production. Conversely, successful brands are good listeners and are open-minded to the creative proposed from filmmakers, especially since integrating a product takes a nuanced vision from an experienced director and brand manager.

“One of the toughest things for brands to understand when integrating their products into stories is that their brand actually can’t be front and center. If it’s front and center, the audience trusts the story less. If it’s integrated in seamlessly, then the audience doesn’t care, because they’re being entertained,” says Lesley Chilcott, producer and director of films like An Inconvenient Truth and It Might Get Loud.

Heineken: one of product integration’s top brands

One brand that has continually mined this space and worked closely with Hollywood is Heineken. For years, the brand has worked to align its signature product with some of the more premium opportunities in entertainment.

“Heineken has forged great partnerships through the years that helps reach our audiences in unique, new and authentic ways. We have found that there’s a strong alignment with the content, their audiences and our consumers,” said Pattie Falch, brand director, Heineken sponsorships & events “Our partnerships have ranged from studios and showrunners to prop masters and set decorators. By supporting the entire community – at every level – we have been best able to embrace the industry and show our loyalty to entertainment.”

One of the ways that the brand has learned how to navigate the waters of Hollywood is a combination of trust and education. The former is based in knowing that stakeholders in the story itself are looking to do what’s best for both the story and the brand. The latter includes key partnerships such as the one Heineken has forged with Branded Entertainment Network (BEN).

“It’s so fascinating to see how a brand gets on screen. We have learned an incredible amount from BEN who are the people we want to be in talks with — and to be honest it comes down to the show,” said Falch. “Prop masters seem to be an integral part of the process as well as the actors themselves. They ultimately can have a different vision for the character and the brand placement won’t work. We’ve learned as a brand and as a team to be flexible. Some of the greatest wins come unexpectedly. And there is nothing better than watching an amazing actor have your brand in their hand and knowing each time they drink that Heienken, 50,000 people across the world are doing the same.”

Another part of the journey are the “must dos” when it comes to finding the right brand/creative fit. In Heineken’s experience, being true partners and collaborators is paramount.

“It takes 15 years to become a Heineken Brewmaster, so the team at Heineken is well aware of how valuable this patience can be,” said Falch. “In executing integrations, we like to understand the story as well as the different characters aligning with our brand(s). Only when we’re happy with what’s inside will we put our family name on the outside.”

For every “must do”, there is the other side — the things to avoid when working with Hollywood on integration.

“Brands cannot pinpoint just one piece of content that they think is relevant. It’s important to be seen in a variety of content in a variety of moments. I believe that’s where the greatest impact of integration happens,” said Falch. “Also, forcing an integration where it feels and looks unnatural can seriously backfire. Content integration is not an opportunity to create a commercial—it’s about finding authentic moments that enhance the story, and the brand plays a big role in bringing that moment to life.”

Though there have been plenty of successful integrations by the brand, one moment that stands out is its partnership on Skyfall, part of the James Bond franchise. Though Bond purists raised eyebrows about 007 eschewing his signature “shaken, not stirred” martini, there is no question that the Heineken integration in the film made a major impact — but it all starts with a true understanding of partnership and how a brand fits within a story.

“There is so much content out there that you can get lost in what is relevant to reach your audience,” noted Falch. “We rely on our partners at BEN to understand our core brand objectives and help us find placements where they will make the most impact in a seamless way. In many aspects, it’s important to understand that each person is their own expert and we need to work closely with producers to make sure our brand is portrayed naturally.”

Like any brand investment, performance is important. Hard data plays its role, but making the most impact in culture is a very important marker of success as well.

“While impressions are great, they are not the end-all be-all in valuing integrations,” concluded Falch. “For us, success is finding buzz-worthy content, with great stories and characters. We want to help tell the story of Heineken, while remaining true to who we are as a brand.”

What's the Story? is sponsored by Branded Entertainment Network (BEN), the first global network for branded product integration in the entertainment industry, across all media, including the influencer space. Learn what today's modern storytellers think makes a great story and how product integration can play an important role.

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Doug Zanger

Doug Zanger is the Americas editor for The Drum. He leads the Americas editorial team’s content activity in the growing region. Based in Portland, Oregon, he is committed to sharing the most meaningful stories that benefit the global industry and its people. A Minnesota native, Zanger has covered a wide range of brands, issues and personalities, including Aloe Blacc, Seu Jorge, Wendy Clark, Susan Credle, Dan Wieden, Jeff Goodby and more. Fiercely dedicated to diversity, equality and talent, he has interviewed several women in leadership roles through his Exceptional Women of the World podcast.

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