Driving character development and brand integration forward

Buick placement in HBO's Big Little Lies

It’s often said that when it comes to a Hollywood script, if you can’t grab the attention of your reader in the first ten pages, it’s most likely a pass. The same could apply to audiences in today’s vast content landscape.

With heavy hitters like Netflix, Amazon, and Apple – in addition to broadcast and premium cable networks – making sizable investments in original content, shows need to garner a strong emotional connection with their audience to reel them in and keep them engaged before they move on to the next hot property.

Therefore, it's vital to introduce a show’s characters quickly so that audiences can decide whether or not to invest in their journey. This affinity cannot happen through dialogue alone – there isn’t enough time – so show creators utilize a range of visual triggers to bring audiences along, from the items characters own to the places they frequent.

The power of the auto category in brand integration

The auto category paints this picture more effectively and quickly than nearly any other. A person’s car gives us an immediate and impactful visual that tells us a lot about that character – who they are, what’s important to them, and how they may or may not be that different from the reflection we see in the mirror.

Much of this comes down to the fact that a car is a significant purchase that most people put a lot of thought into around style, efficiency, price, eco creds, reputation, etc. The same is true when aligning a car with a character on screen. Does the character need extra room for a family? Are they a high-powered, wealthy figure who wants luxury? Or are they an environmentalist who wants to drive an electric car to reduce their carbon footprint?

Cars have a fantastic ability to give us immediate insight into a character before they deliver even a single line of dialogue. This provides a prime opportunity for brands that want to play in this space. We all remember seeing James Bond pulling up in his Aston Martin or Steve McQueen burning rubber in his Ford Mustang. These are moments that transcend time; when an auto brand catches lightning in a bottle and becomes the character.

When brands are looking at this type of integration opportunity, they need to examine the different characters and their aspirations and ideals, ensuring that they embody the same ideologies of the brand. It’s not just about trying to get the most prominent star or the biggest project. Instead, brands should consider whether the character is the right person to represent the brand.

Buick cuts through on HBO's Big Little Lies

When Buick aligned their Enclave SUV with Reese Witherspoon in HBO's critically acclaimed series, Big Little Lies, they were able to check many boxes. Alignment with top-tier talent in Reese, an incredible piece of content on a premium network like HBO, and a character that challenged some of the preconceived notions about what a Buick driver looks and sounds like are just a few of the significant plusses.

Buick is a brand that embodies quality, aspiration and treats luxury as an experience, not a price point. Integrations in premium content — all with notable characters that viewers care about — help bring these values to life and allow audiences to relate at a much deeper level.

After the series debuted, Branded Entertainment Network (BEN) conducted surveys that revealed more than one-third of the Big Little Lies viewers recalled at least one product integration during the series, with auto the most recalled category.

Of those who recalled the auto integration specifically, 68% stated that it improved their opinion of Buick and 87% said it increased their likelihood of purchasing a Buick in the future – evidence of the immediate effects that a successful integration can have on a brand to not only drive character development but brand opinion and consideration as well.

Big opportunities for auto brands

With all that said, there are also opportunities that aren’t so cut and dry, such as a period piece, futuristic piece or any opportunity where a car brand might look different on screen compared to real life. These are opportunities that require brands to think bigger and take some risks. Usually, when it comes to auto brands, they’re looking to highlight the current or upcoming model, which makes complete sense. But it would be a mistake to overlook these other opportunities that may transcend a particular moment or model to become a part of the broader narrative thread of a story.

DeLorean understood the value of taking a risk. Back to the Future contains one of the most significant car placements in film history and it wasn’t about showcasing the DeLorean car or the various features that existed at that time – it was about the vehicle becoming a character in its own right. If brands let their imagination run free, sometimes it can bring results that will captivate audiences for years and generations to come.

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