The days of brand integration as a ‘nice to have’ are long gone. It is now a highly-viable, effective part of the marketing mix. Additionally, the fast-growing volume of content choice, scale and measurability combined with increasing use of ad blocking, illustrates that the space is ripe for brands to take full advantage early and often.
Brand integration has, and continues to be, an important staple of entertainment. Research indicates that the practice may have begun, at least on the big screen, as early as 1876 with Auguste and Louis Lumiere featuring Sunlight soap in their films.
In more recent eras, television and radio were rich grounds for brands with entire programs being underwritten by companies. In fact, it was Procter & Gamble whose sponsorship and production of daytime TV dramas helped coin the term ‘soap operas’ — entertaining audiences around the world and providing businesses a platform for brand messages.
Though those were mainly product sponsorships, the evolution of brand integration, especially within storylines, has evolved dramatically. There are plenty of gold standards often cited by fans and brand experts alike including Reese’s Pieces in E.T., Wonder Bread in Talledega Nights and Eggo in Stranger Things. Yet there are thousands of integrations that may not have garnered as much press but prove highly effective.
Today, the sheer volume of choice, combined with the consumer desire to avoid advertising and the advent of streaming content, presents a unique and formidable opportunity for brands. A recent study by PQ Media shows that global branded entertainment revenues rose 8% in 2017, with double-digit growth in brand integration and placement.
Even with an ever-expanding content universe, Greg Isaacs, chief product and marketing officer at BEN, believes that the evolution of integration is “going back to the future in a way.”
“I would argue that, while we might not have three ‘networks’ I do believe that there will be ten main players that really matter,” he says.
Aside from more traditional networks, Isaacs believes that the likes of Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, HBO, Facebook and a smattering of others will emerge as the dominant players in the space.
“I also believe that we’re going back to a world where integration matters most,” Isaacs notes. “Integration, done well, is authentic and effective.”
Outside of more traditional entertainment content, the emergence of influencers, a $570m market according to eMarketer, is yet another layer that brands can leverage and, according to Isaacs, will “continue to be hugely powerful.”
The budget move to integration
Ricky Ray Butler, chief executive officer at BEN, has seen a consistent and progressive shift of budgets to brand integration. Though it is dependent on the brand, a recent development by Target underscores the importance and power of the practice.
In March, the brand worked with NBCUniversal on a full integration of the show Superstore in one episode. This complete takeover made a significant impact and Rick Gomez, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Target saw the benefit. He said that: “To be an effective marketer, we have to be able to meet our guests where they are, and when it comes to broadcast, that can be challenging as the trend of ad-skipping increases,”
“We’ve seen strong results from our custom integrations, like the one we’ve created with NBCU for Superstore. In fact, they’ve proven more effective than a traditional TV spot,” he adds.
Butler sees the largest brand budget shifts from experimental and television advertising.
“It’s very brand-dependent but I think the big story is that money is shifting into integration, which is exciting.”
Adds Aaron Frank, senior vice president, marketing, strategy and insights at BEN: “The shift is where integration isn’t a ‘nice to have’ but a necessity in the marketing mix. And, as a brand, you can still be early enough that you can be a little bit of a trailblazer in the space and have competitive advantage.”
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