Getting Branded Entertainment (Not Product Placement) Right

By Katie Hynan Nov 15, 2013

Getting Branded Entertainment (Not Product Placement) Right

Recent social media backlash against Starbucks for its heavy-handed product placement during NBC’s The Voice has me wondering why brands continue to make missteps when it comes to branded entertainment. If they just followed a few straightforward guidelines, they could turn their bit player role from villain to hero (or at least a well-liked character).

Voice fans were quick to express their frustration regarding Starbucks cups strategically placed in every shot, asking the company if they thought consumers were stupid and to stop distracting them during their favorite show.

The idea that consumers don’t want to be interrupted by marketing messages should not have come as a surprise to the typically savvy marketers at one of the world’s most successful brands. And yet, Starbucks still began its relationship with The Voice by acting like an advertiser—get the brand in front of as many eyeballs as possible as often as possible—instead of a sponsor—become a relevant part of the experience first and the awareness and attention will follow.

Contrast Starbucks’ role in The Voice with Staples’ partnership with NBC’s The Office. As fictional paper company Dunder-Mifflin’s biggest competitor, Staples received several mentions each episode and even took on a persona of its own based on the way certain characters spoke of and interacted with the company. In addition, The Office set was chock full of Staples products, a situation that was ironic, humorous and, most importantly, genuine.

In addition to running the risk of turning off viewers, not thinking like a sponsor also leads to missed opportunities, as the idea of activating the partnership is overlooked. Marketers entering branded entertainment deals should be leveraging all of their rights. Activation should occur off-screen in addition to on-screen to bring the partnership to life.

Starbucks has taken a baby step in that direction as presenting sponsor of The Voice’s Twitter poll to select specific songs for contestants to sing on the show. However, its role there remains passive rather than active.

Based on fan dedication to shows such as Breaking Bad, Parks and Rec, Homeland and The Voice, brands should consider running unique promotions with their televised partners. Promotions could include a day on the set of your favorite show, the opportunity to be an extra, or tickets to an exclusive launch party. Engaging fans with programs they are passionate about will create an even stronger connection between consumer and brand.

While some brands are taking this route—offering exclusive web content or promotional elements, the tactic is largely under-used. The opportunity to get viewers intimately involved with their favorite TV dramas, comedies and reality shows can create loyal fans and customers for life.


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Please login to post a comment.

Katie Hynan 11/19/2013 1:32 PM
Thanks, Brett! I appreciate the kind words and interesting insight.
Brett Heard 11/18/2013 7:24 AM
GREAT post!! Thank you.

For the last 6 years my company has been creating branded web shows for sponsors like McDonald's, J&J, ConAgra and others, and we have clear ROI case studies on what works and what doesn't. What works? Heavy on the entertainment, light (and more importantly AUTHENTIC!!) on the branding. When you do that right, both the show and the sponsor can win in a big way. When you don't...both suffer.
We just launched a service on our site that now allows Marketers to connect with existing web shows that are vetted and specifically aligned to each brand member's target audience. This helps them integrate into a property that already has a built in audience which reduces their risk. Check it out and let me know what you think.

And thanks for the great post!


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