The power of being seamless in brand integration

What’s the Story? is a storytelling video series dedicated to learning what truly makes a great story, told through the lens of the world’s talent and practitioners of the craft in entertainment, marketing and beyond.

Brand and product integration, over the years, has seen several permutations. From the “golden era” of television, where shows were sponsored entirely by one brand, to the desert of generic products, entertainment is now back to a much more sophisticated approach.

What makes it much more effective is that storylines and brands can be much more seamless. Randall Winston, a longtime Hollywood producer with shows such as Roseanne, Scrubs and Spin City under his belt, has seen the cycle of brand integration.

“When I started in the business, it was lots of people with a (generic) cola or beer,” he says. “Which is a drag, because part of the fun, when you’re a fan, is your suspension of reality.”

Buying into the individual worlds of entertainment is an escape, but having a product stand out like a sore thumb can make the viewer experience uneven. On one of his most current projects, Grace and Frankie, the popular Netflix show, he has seen how being seamless helps move the story along in a meaningful way.

“In my first year [on the show], we did an integration with Zillow, [and] it’s a nice way to have reality in the show,” he notes.

Keeping a storyline moving while incorporating brands is certainly a creative endeavor for all involved, especially producers. Having the entirety of the team on the same page, including the brand, is a delicate balancing act, but it helps ensure that, as Winston puts, it is “what’s best for the show.”

In his experience, not having the cohesion can result in “dividing up the production into pieces,” which can make the process arduous and take the show off the intended path.

Though he has been in the industry for a long time, Winston, a two-time Emmy nominee, has learned a great deal about the balance between story and a brand’s need, pointing to a past Target integration as a key learning experience.

“There was a lot of back and forth with the brand’s expectation,” he says. “And I learned a lot about the corporate needs that I had a blind spot to because [the integration] was multi-layered. But I [liked] having more insight [to] get a better idea.”

As far as what makes a great story, having been deeply involved with many over his career, there are three key pillars: conflict, suspense and humor. Those three components make for a story that gives people “the emotional reason to lean forward into the story.”

Additionally, in his current work, the notion of satisfaction plays a critical role. According to Winston, the showrunners on Grace and Frankie ask if the content and seasons were satisfying. In his mind, that helps “move the ball” and progress not just a story, but an entire, well-loved series.

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.

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