By Tom Bannister
This week Marriott launched a trailer for a second installment of the film series Two Bellmen, this time co-starring Frieda Pinto. This represents the appearance of a content type, rarely seen in the brand funded content realm: the returning format.
In other media such as film, television and even traditional advertising, ongoing IP is the Holy Grail, the ultimate aim. This is not so in branded entertainment where productions tend to be one-offs. For example, the studio-level feature film world is largely returning IP. In the television business, studios often produce up to three seasons of series before turning a profit or developing an engaged audience. That’s as true on SVOD platforms as it is on network, whereby fans often prefer to wait rather than risking time committing to a first season. In traditional advertising, some of the most well-known examples such as Old Spice Guy, All State’s Mayhem series and much of the content we see from Geico are re-occurring themes, stories and characters. Once a series has attracted attention, its more competitively positioned than a first-time initiative. Even in the world of endorsements, when a brand aligns with a celebrity on an ongoing basis, the viewer tends to give more credence to that endorsement than the one-off, obviously-for-a-paycheck approach (as Nick Offerman is demonstrating with Lagavulin.) So why haven’t we seen re-occurring formats in branded entertainment?
There have been some previous examples of returning branded entertainment IP. Vice’s Creators Project, an initiative with Intel, has been ongoing since 2010. IKEA produced four seasons of “Easy To Assemble”. AT&T has gotten up to three seasons of @Summerbreak. Intel and Toshiba’s Inside film series has picked up a lot of awards. And yet even for successful branded entertainment endeavors, getting a brand to re-invest is often a struggle. Why is this?
A number of factors come into play in influencing a brand not to double down on a particular piece of IP:
1. Novelty. Some brands want their marketing initiatives to be completely novel each year. You can view this as either seeking ‘freshness’ or having to start again at ground zero, with a new idea each year.
2. Does It Drive Revenue? In the past, branded entertainment initiatives have been viewed as brand marketing and, as such, there has been difficulty connecting projects to sales and proving an underlying business reason for continuing said project. This is changing as brands re-orientate to a digital marketplace and content (entertainment and infotainment) becomes crucial in driving consumers through the purchasing cycle and connectable to end purchases (via mobile tracking, e-commerce, etc).
3. Marketing Department Turn Over. Like TV and film development departments, marketing departments have a high executive turn over rate and incoming executives rarely want to continue the previous regimes’ projects. Whereas in TV and film ongoing IP survives by having an underlying business legitimacy, branded entertainment has,in the past struggled to provide that same proof.
4.Ever-Changing Media. Especially in digital, each year brings a new hot platform or formula, and industry consensus is often that a brand must charge after it or get left behind. This year, that’s clearly virtual reality. Last year, it was Snapchat. There is a temptation to pursue the new shiny toy, rather than steadily building something year to year.
A branded entertainment franchise might not suit every brand, but it’s so hard to break through with a new idea. So to attempt it year on year is an even tougher challenge. “Zoolander 2” is a case in point. Even though “Zoolander” is powerful feature film IP, the way that IP is currently being extended across platform and media is a great example of brand-funded content marketing. “Zoolander” is on the front cover of Vogue, characters from the upcoming sequel have Instagram accounts, there is myriad social media content and I would argument the eight-minute “73 questions With “Zoolander” (itself an ongoing series for Vogue) is better and funnier than the official movie trailer.
Disclaimer: I produced first two seasons of “Easy To Assemble.”
This post was penned by VideoInk publishing partner Branded.tv, a one-stop shop for branded entertainment. Branded.tv features and catalogs the best branded entertainment campaigns from around the world.