If you’ve seen the SodaStream on Rachel Ray, the stack of Xboxes on The Big Bang Theory, Ant-Man’s Baskin-Robbins job, the Dunkin’ Donuts cup on Orange is the New Black or Jimmy Kimmel Live’s KFC segment, then you’ve seen Branded Entertainment Network (BEN) at work. BEN is Corbis Entertainments’ global network for branded entertainment, which aims to “connect brands to their target audiences through seamless integration into the world’s most premium film, television, digital, music and celebrity content.” You can see a sprawling example of BEN’s work here.
Long ago, brands forged relationships with prop managers with the hope that their products would make it onscreen. BEN is product placement 2.0. In the two years since its launch, BEN has seen a eightfold increase in branded integrations across its platforms. From 2014 to 2015, BEN saw a tenfold increase in media spend on behalf of brands.
brandchannel spoke with Caressa Douglas, BEN’s Vice President of Branded Integration and Content, about how BEN works, whether or not BEN is an auction for product placements (hint: it’s not) and how over-the-top internet TV (OTT) is driving growth.
brandchannel: In a nuts-and-bolts elevator pitch form, what can BEN do for a brand?
Caressa Douglas: The Branded Entertainment Network connects brands to their target audiences through seamless integrations into the world’s most premium film, TV/OTT, digital, social media influencer and celebrity content while protecting creative integrity for content creators. Clients can instantly access thousands of opportunities all through one platform where BEN technology will match and discover content most relevant to the brand and target audience. BEN also brings valuable metrics and reporting with the same clarity as traditional media. The BEN platform is the first of its kind and we are confident that no one is doing what we are doing and with scale.
bc: OTT has been a big part of the growth for BEN. Is this in large part because many OTT services are trying to maintain an ad-free model and are looking to add revenue in other ways than have to turn to conventional ad breaks?
bc: Is BEN an auction, with brands bidding up the most prime opportunities for placement?
Douglas: No, it’s not an auction. BEN does, however, make campaign planning easy, customizable and effective across multimedia platforms. After appropriate content is identified and aligned to brand objectives, the BEN global team will handle the campaign from inception to execution. This can include assisting in script modification, logistics and assurance of premium placements that are meaningful and valuable to your brand.
After identifying the appropriate content that delivers to a targeted audience and is aligned with brand objectives—whether it be an integration with a Netflix series, popular TV show, an upcoming film or with a social media influencer—BEN aggregates these opportunities, creating value for every brand.
bc: One of BEN’s selling points is that it gives reach into platforms that are “impenetrable to traditional ad sales models” like Netflix and Showtime. How much of BEN’s explosive growth is in these networks?
Douglas: BEN has seen an astonishing eight-times increase in branded integrations across its platforms in 2015 and 10 times the amount of media dollars invested on behalf of brands year over year from 2014 to 2015. OTT has been a big part of that growth. To date, OTT —including Showtime and HBO—is approximately 29% of the various integrations and we see this, along with social media influencer integrations, continuing to increase.
bc: Some might say that BEN is changing content to create product placement opportunities. And are there any limitations where BEN filters placement opportunities and requests are turned down?
Douglas: BEN works directly with the important decision-makers of the content—whether it’s directors, screen writers, producers, art departments, social media influencer and costume artists, etc.—as it is very important to create authentic, meaningful integrations for our clients, while keeping the content intent intact. BEN also excludes categories that are either already closed, negative moments for brands or categories that, through experience, BEN knows the producers won’t be open to through due to existing relationships. BEN takes out the guesswork.
Series within platforms such as HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube and others have been increasingly recognized by critics and global audiences alike. These platforms support their filmmakers, but they are not beholden to advertisers. And it’s this artistic autonomy that is also affecting the way brands are integrating into content. We are evolving the former practice of product placement from an often reactive position to a proactive, strategic approach. Through our decades of experience in executing integrations woven into the fabric of storylines, we’ve driven the industry to recognize this philosophy of scalable potential through multi-year programs.
Executive leadership defers brand integration decision-making to the discretion of the producers. Savvy producers recognize the shift of media spends and the desire from brands to participate in the emotional connection their stories make with audiences. But they also realize how crucial the role a brand can play in support of their story or in providing the shorthand needed to cue the audience about a character. For this reason, producers weigh consideration of brand participation as judiciously as casting an actor.