Brand Arc’s Rob Donnell Talks Industry ‘Growing Pains’ in Ad Age

The Case for Branded Entertainment’s Lingua Franca
By: Rob Donnell

To Solve Its Identity Crisis, Industry Needs to Create and Learn a Common Language

Are you listening, Mark Twain? It’s me, Rob. Folks are lamenting the demise of Branded Entertainment, so naturally, your “reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” quip comes to mind.

To me, what our industry is experiencing is your typical awkward phase. Why, even a mulleted Mr. George Clooney palled around with Jo and Tootie in “The Facts of Life” purgatory while waiting to grow into his heavenly looks and charm. Whatever the case, all this mortality talk has me reflecting on my decade on “Madison & Vine”-or whatever the heck we’re calling the business now. And this identity crisis, I think, is a big part of the problem.

We need to create, learn and speak a branded entertainment Esperanto. One firm’s patented Stealth Embedded Programming Integration (SEPI(tm)) is another’s Strategic On-air Brand Sponsorship (SOBS(tm)). While a silly, shifting set of proprietary buzzwords isn’t going to amount to a hill of beans, standardizing our terms will help us communicate and compare. Our industry’s content, production and distribution partners should share a more-scientific script — not get frustrated, then distracted by the next ill-defined fad.

Content creation is the latest branded-entertainment panacea. While some brands should be content creators, auteurism is not the only option. Hollywood marriages come in all shapes and sizes. Many brands like riding shotgun with shows: They integrate SKUs into storylines, leverage talent and cross-promote through retail and social initiatives. Others seek more control over the material and distribution, so they create content. These brands essentially become the entertainment vehicles.

A host of factors influence what’s best for each brand: product category, brand attributes, campaign goals, budget. I envision an electronics brand being central to advancing a plot, punctuating a passion point or helping to carve out a character; a toothpaste-centric project, conversely, seems far from seamless.

Over time, we’ve seen the more-gratuitous product placements of reality TV give way to sophisticated storytelling that weaves brands into scripts. Brands that forge contextually relevant alliances — the property, specific placement opportunity and audience must be a good fit — have the chance to be culturally relevant MacGuffins or humanized as heroes, villains and extras that characters interact with. Unlike ads, this reinforces brands’ roles in everyday American life.

The secret is good, old-fashioned matchmaking between a brand and a property and then finding the rhythm of the show…

For the rest of the article as it appeared in Ad Age, click HERE.


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