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Download the free guide, 'The rise of product placement and influencer marketing' created in partnership with BEN

It’s been a tough time for many in the entertainment industry. But the continued presence of Covid-19 has at least driven a new creativity and fostered a willingness to embrace evolving channels.

Just listen to actor Tom Hanks. Having been one of the first, and best-known, Hollywood stars to contract Covid-19, he vividly described his experience of being an early sufferer of coronavirus – nursing bones that “felt like they were made of soda crackers.” However, Hanks also saw an upside in adversity, detailing how his new movie Greyhound would launch as an Apple+ TV exclusive rather than in theaters. He said that this alternative was a “savior” that “offers us the opportunity to have the movie out.”

We’ve witnessed a similar adaptability in the new avenues explored by brands. Marketers have looked to integrate their brands into entertainment online, across social media and streaming services, to reach their customers and offer moments of relief during challenging times.

Examples include Public Records, the Brooklyn music venue and cafe which assembled, at some speed, a merchandise store and 24-hour TV channel, Public Access, to stay connected with the community during the time of closure. Meanwhile, British beer brand BrewDog created its online bar, the BrewDog Open Arms, encouraging people to get together over a beer with digital quizzes, giveaways and live music.

Established global brands innovated too. Adidas launched its ‘#hometeam’ campaign to inspire consumers, athletes, and artists to share ways they were staying active and creative at home. Nike, Adidas’ great rival, is renowned for its experimentation with brand entertainment, and the past few months were no exception. In the immediate wake of coronavirus, the brand launched its ‘Play Inside, Play for the World’ campaign, encouraging people to socially distance, and built on this with entertainment-focused activity including ‘Made to Play’, which motivated children around the world to get active. Nike’s ‘Living Room Cup’ then offered a variety of mini-workout challenges, measured against the personal bests of Nike pro athletes including Cristiano Ronaldo and Giannis Antetokounmpo. And the brand’s reputation of being at the forefront of product placement was further enhanced by its integration into Netflix’s lauded Michael Jordan documentary series The Last Dance.

Meanwhile, BEN’s work for Old Navy focused on the brand’s continued commitment to inclusivity and diversity. BEN worked with showrunners and creators to craft in-store and online shopping moments aligned to the brand tenet of inclusivity, with diverse characters and storylines within authentic and inclusive storylines. This resulted in 12 premium placements across six top-tier broadcast, streaming and feature film properties that featured diverse casts and delivered authentic experiences to deliver real moments for the popular retailer. For instance, in Mindy Kaling’s hit series, Never Have I Ever, Old Navy aligned with Rebecca, an aspiring fashion designer with Down syndrome, establishing her character as an Old Navy employee. In Queer Eye, BEN integrated Old Navy in an extensive in-store shopping scene featuring inclusive sizing for a woman who had previously struggled to find clothing that fitted her shape.

The fast food giants have invested in branded entertainment too. Burger King integrated its brand into a comedic country music video directed by Michel Gondry, and McDonald’s worked with Travis Scott, through a deal with his record label Cactus Jack. The rapper designed a range of McDonald’s merchandise (from t-shirts and lunchboxes right through to a ‘Chicken McNugget body pillow’), to connect with millennial and Gen Z customers.

McDonald’s has invested in entertainment in other markets too – including the UK, where it shared classic recipes for food and prompted influencers across TikTok and Instagram to post their videos. The online Family Hub offered AR play experiences for children at home, and enabled people to stage their own McDonald’s parties in a domestic setting.

Michelle Graham-Clare, vice-president of food and marketing at McDonald’s UK and Ireland, says: “With our restaurants closed, it was important to continue to communicate with, and engage, our brand fans and followers. A drumbeat of consumer content across owned and earned media allowed us to embrace the outpouring of brand love that we felt during closure, with customers from all walks of life telling us how much they missed us and enabled us to communicate our reopening plans clearly and consistently. That one source of truth meant our customers could easily find out the latest news, as we worked hard to reopen our restaurants slowly and safely.”

Graham-Clare also describes how a test-and-learn approach to brand integration worked for the them: “We couldn’t leave the fans and followers behind on social media, so we’ve continued to pivot into engagement-led content, taking the lessons learnt in lockdown with us as we overhaul our social channels and increase activity to digitally drive sales and brand engagement."

Few brands enjoyed 2020. Yet the Covid-19 pandemic, and the associated changes in people’s behaviors, undoubtedly inspired the creation of a new landscape in brand entertainment that will benefit forward-thinking marketers for years to come.

The rise of product placement and influencer marketing, created in partnership with BEN, explores the latest developments and capabilities available to marketers through brand integration, with insights, tips, and case studies to inspire your next big campaign. Click here to download this critical intelligence today.