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Branded Entertainment Network’s Stephanie Dade explains how producers can take full advantage of brand partnerships without compromising their creativity
Brand integration has been supporting the creative community for years and as the globalisation of content continues to rise through the popularity of SVoD platforms, more and more producers are partnering with global brands in unprecedented ways.
When collaborating with partners on brand integration across the entertainment landscape, a key word that continues to emerge is ‘authenticity’. For creators and storytellers, being authentic is critical as it avoids straying from and compromising carefully crafted story arcs and character development.
But authenticity should be of critical importance to brands as well. Storylines can be enhanced and character traits reinforced with a solid, well-thought out and planned integration.
Although integration can be alluring for both sides, how can producers really take full advantage of branded integration without added workload or a creative compromise?
Here are a few insider tips on how to maintain authenticity in brand integration.
LOOK FOR A PARTNER
A successful brand partner is one who trusts the creative to integrate their product in a way that is supportive to the story and not disruptive.
Wilson was more than a volleyball in Cast Away; he was an essential part of Tom Hank’s survival in the film and played a pivotal role in driving the storyline forward.
Rather than the perception that a brand wants to commercialise the art, think of how a brand can support a project, from the writers’ room to the screen to the marketing campaign.
FIND THE CONSENSUS
Take time to determine what’s most important for each party. Ask the tough questions to make sure that all parties are aligned. Understand how the brand would like to see their product used and how they don’t want to see it used. Ensure that your potential brand partner wants to be in service to the storytelling – and not the other way around.
Always remember that it’s OK to say ‘no’ if the consensus is not found. If it isn’t the right fit, there is no benefit to forcing something that should be more or less seamless.
FIND THE MOMENTS
Producers should embrace the enthusiastic interest from brands and advertisers to be integrated into a story. More times than not, we find moments that are already scripted that can be used for a branded integration.
The specific brands and types of products that a character uses give the audience added insight into who they are – or who they perceive themselves to be. Integrations feel most authentic when they are closely tied to a character or storyline – building from the script, outline or treatment, depending on the stage of production.
In Netflix’s hit streaming show Stranger Things, there is a moment where one of the lead characters, Eleven, is hungry and finds herself picking frozen waffles as her food of choice.
“Brand integration can not only offset production costs, it can add to the experience audiences expect to see on screen”
Could that have easily been another frozen breakfast option? Of course! Eggo was fortunate to embrace the opportunity of this defining ‘moment’ in the script and the frozen waffle brand has been reaping the benefits ever since. Take comfort in knowing that most brands are seeking authentic on-screen moments.
In summary, brand integration can not only offset production costs, it can add to the experience audiences expect to see on screen. Brand-less products or made-up brands are often seen as disruptive to the viewing experience and can sometimes distract audiences from the storyline.
Now that we are seeing amazing growth in non-ad-supported viewing platforms, brands are increasingly in tune with the opportunity brand integration provides. This is an opportunity for producers who view working with brands as a creative partnership rather than a financial transaction.
Producers should also be choosy in selecting their brand partners: the smartest brands in the integration space understand the value that producers, influencers, artists and content creators bring in terms of cultivating and connecting with an audience.
Integration is not only becoming the cornerstone for any forward-thinking brand’s marketing strategy but also, increasingly, of every savvy producer’s storyline.