The TV industry is experiencing a sea change and advertising, as we have known it, is threatened as in no other historical period. For as long as most in marketing have known, advertising is the way that brands are positioned and awareness built. Whether the advertising was a print ad in a newspaper; a direct mail piece; a billboard; a radio spot, or the king of all ads, a commercial on a popular TV program; the end game was always the same. Get the attention of the reader, listener or viewer for as long as possible in order to expose them to the brand message, or to create a call to action that causes a purchase of the good or service.
This mechanism was the "impression" experienced by the consumer. The exposure to the message was the goal. Sufficient opportunities for the message to be experienced created a quantity of impressions that would add up to a reasonable probability that the consumer being exposed would both become aware of the brand, the product or service and, in turn, purchase. If a TV show had one million viewers, and they all saw a 30-second commercial spot during said show, then that would be one million impressions available to impact buying behavior of some percentage of those viewers. Hence, the quantity of impressions became a measure of the value of the advertising, and drove marketers to "buy media" where they could maximize the number of impressions that would impact the most number of consumers. If the ad was effective in communicating its message, then it was assumed that the impressions would move consumer behavior.
All of that works because it is assumed that a reasonable percentage of the show viewers will actually watch, or be exposed to, the commercial spot. And, in the past, that was, more often than not true. But, the world is changing. Today, several factors create meaningful threats to the traditional model.
The advent of the TIVO, or DVR devices, began the process of increasing the amount of deferred commercial viewing, inevitably creating the opportunity for "commercial skipping." How many of us, when viewing a program we recorded, actually have the program play the commercials during the breaks? Even the most ardent TV media seller, or buyer, would obviously admit that a growing percentage of programming is recorded and viewed on a deferred basis. The inevitable result is decreasing the probable impressions from the traditional commercial spot.
Another emerging change is the shift from a handful of networks to literally hundreds, mostly available on cable or satellite. These various networks are now so substantially focused on smaller niche markets that the general broadcast media predictably lost market share. These niche networks offer more carefully defined demographic and psychographic characteristics. With these changes comes a much smaller base, and the smaller the viewing base, the fewer the impressions, and therefore fewer consumers impacted. Indeed, what happened in many cable markets is that the more traditional "short-form" infomercial of 60 to 90 seconds became more prevalent. These hard-offer, call-to-action spots dominate many cable networks, while branding spots take a much smaller segment of the commercial spots. With advertisers looking for ROI, the infomercial spot seems to have much better payback than the branding spot impacting a much smaller audience.
On top of all that, there is the internet and the growth of the high-speed broadband connection! The "digital natives," or the audiences that grew up only knowing a world with easily available internet, are clearly migrating a good deal of their lives, including their "TV show viewing," to the broadband connection. All the data suggests that the today's youth are watching major portions of their programming on the internet, while a growing number of the "older generation" are discovering the convenience of watching shows using their computer. This is also coupled with the drift away from newspapers to online media and the growing importance of online buying. How many book readers actually go to a bookstore to buy a book? How many TV buyers go to a store and shop to buy, as opposed to those who shop on the internet, research their purchases, and either buy on the internet or then go buy a specific product at a store that has the best price?
All this change impacts not just what and how consumers buy, but it dramatically impacts how they find out about what they might ultimately want to buy. In short, impressions on traditional TV have a much lower probability of a direct impact on the consumer than they did 20 years ago. The world has changed. And so has the branding of goods and services.
There is no doubt that advertisers found new ways for their products to be seen and understood. Product Placement and Brand Integration certainly are substantially more prevalent in both the movie theater and on the home TV. TV and films discovered this a long time ago. The most subtle type of product placement is where the product is shown as part of the action, but not really "showcased" in any specific manner. Think of Coke on the set of The American Idol. The next step along the way would be what was done in the original "James Bond" series. Those first few films probably made the Aston Martin automobile more famous than any other campaign the company produced, and the placement of BMW in later films carried on the tradition for that company. For years, films and TV used airlines, cars, hotels, restaurants, etc., in similar fashion.
On TV, we have shows like The Biggest Loser and The Apprentice, where the show's story line and the products are not just part of the show's plot, they are written into the script. The companies are then able to boast that they are the products "as seen on" those shows.
In 2010, the Academy Award nominated film, Up in the Air, is one of the more dramatic product placement and brand integration projects seen in a long time. American Airlines, Hertz and Hilton Hotels likely paid a small fortune for the film to use their names, and showcase their Frequent Flyer and Traveler Programs as examples of the "professional road warrior" who uses all the benefits of these programs. It would be nearly impossible for American Airlines to come away from that film without the brand recognition of these three companies.
Obviously, these product placement and brand integration projects are increasingly more popular as companies look for varied ways to get their brand into the consumer mindset. What was once considered offensive became almost expected, and most of the largest companies place products as a common practice. From logos on the side of rinks, to messages on football fields, to digital simulations of brand identity on the background of baseball games, companies stretch to have their brands associated with entertainment.
Given that there is less and less willingness on consumers' part to allow disruptive advertising to interrupt their entertainment, companies continue looking for the opportunity to showcase their brands. On top of that, as companies come to understand the value of direct–to-consumer marketing, the role of the short- and even the long-form infomercial expanded. Once the province of the "slick," this vehicle became sophisticated and acceptable when Guthy-Renker created some of the most "beautiful" infomercials for their core product line, Proactive, enticing many famous and beautiful stars to support these shows. Since then, the most famous of the "show hosts," Billy Mays, with his booming and almost stressful voice, transformed the short-form infomercial into "mainstream" advertising.1
Today, "branded companies" are engaging in a broad range of activities. From the largest to the smallest, the typical Marketing VP is focused on far more than just "running an ad" on TV, radio or print. The internet is now a far more important vehicle, allowing for the development of campaigns that are not even ads. Instead, they are social media campaigns, now essentially the modern substitute for traditional PR. Firms can no longer think that "advertising" is a TV campaign, but must see the entire spectrum of media, including the now-very-powerful internet. The direct, measureable nature of the web connection through elaborate and dynamic web sites serves more as interactive experiences. Products target direct e-mail campaigns directly at the precise demographic required for a product. Social media efforts allow third parties to provide meaningful "word-of-mouth," referral messaging to the market. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) allows people most interested in their product or service to find the company themselves. E-newsletters contain content and free information connecting the recipient with the company and establish its prima facia credibility as a professional expert. All these methods are potentially far more powerful than any TV or print ad.
Marshall McLuhan once said, "The medium is the message." The key fact is that today he would say, "The media are the message." Meaning that no single medium will get the message across; the message must be disseminated through a broad range of media.
At O2 Media, we are producers of television shows that run on Lifetime and the WE TV networks. These shows are a logical extension of Brand Integration and Product Placement strategies. They are clearly within the broadest definition of Branded Entertainment, but are probably better thought of as Edutainment or, as I like to refer to them, as BrandutainmentTM. These shows feature permanent hosts, mostly in a talk format, and provide a clear formula for entertaining the viewer with a broad range of topics from the weather, to book authors, to celebrity guests promoting social causes, to health and fitness, etc. They are shows that entertain, but provide viewers with potential solutions to everyday issues, mostly those faced by women -- who make most of the household decisions.2
These shows have three to five segments where our producers will, following our core annual editorial calendar, develop story lines that they believe highlight a life challenge for our viewers. Then they search for companies that can provide subject matter expertise in that area, and possess a potential solution to the challenge. Once we find the right company, it is invited to appear on the show as a participant and used as a resource to tell the three-to-six minute story, and offer their product or service as one of the solutions available.
These shows are completely within the editorial and creative control of our producers, but these participants are asked to help us with the content and to provide evidence of the value of their product or service in solving the challenge. Once they sign on to participate, they will pay us a scheduling fee to be on the show. This fee defrays some of the costs of the show, and also assures us that they are attentive to our requests during the pre-production process, and are there when we need them on camera. This forum gives us meaningful content to help our viewers, and it clearly provides the participant with the opportunity to get significant brand exposure. The value of these impressions far exceeds anything that they might otherwise get with typical commercial spots, because it offers the opportunity to expand on the story well beyond a simple 30-second sound bite.
BrandutainmentTM, as reflected in these shows, truly is entertaining and educating viewers, and if we succeed, we will engage them in the program. The participants, on the other hand, get the value of a significant opportunity to talk about their brand to audiences that are specifically identified as their buyers. There is no commercial, there is no offer, there is no call to action to buy. These segments cannot feel, in any way, like infomercials or they will defeat the purpose of the show, disappointing our viewers.
That said, we recognize, as do all the advertising agencies working with companies large and small, that impressions are still the heartbeat of consumer messaging. For this reason, we have wrapped our shows with a broad range of "other media" primarily for the purpose of promoting the show to our viewers. By working closely with our participants, we also create for them a "value envelope" of other media, making the show almost the smallest part of the participant's branding experience.
In our view, BrandutainmentTM is the wave of the future. There is no doubt that there will always be room for straight commercial, brand integration, product placement and various other branded entertainment promotions. This strategy provides the company seeking to establish brand positioning an opportunity to tell a more robust and in-depth story about what they do, while we get a chance to entertain, educate and engage our viewers. We also believe that by combining BrandutainmentTM with other aspects of PR, Promotion and Direct Response Marketing, a comprehensive marketing strategy can be built for the consumer products company of the future.
1 We discuss the use of the infomercial and its validity as part of a full-scale campaign to both promote brand and sell product in another paper, but suffice to say, the day of the infomercial is here, strong and highly visible.
2 O2 Media shows include The Balancing Act, running on Lifetime Television from 7-8 AM five days a week; and Designing Spaces, running on the WE TV Network from 9:30 – 10 AM on Friday, Sunday and Monday.
Gerald M. Czarnecki is the President & Chief Executive Officer for O2 Media, Inc. in Pompano Beach, Florida. For media inquiries, contact Limor Windt, Vice President of Marketing, at Limor@o2mediainc.com or +1 954 691 1102.
About O2 Media, Inc.
O2 Media Inc. was founded by early pioneers of the Branded Entertainment industry. Our principals have been performing Direct-to-Consumer, Direct Response marketing and creating Branded Entertainment since 1992. In addition to our expertise in DR and BE, we are also the home of state-of-the-art full production facilities, with the full in-house staff to offer turnkey production services, online marketing and Brand Engagement strategies. As the creators of the weekdays’ hour-long show on Lifetime Television - The Balancing Act, and weekend’s show on WEtv - Designing Spaces, O2 Media dominates the women’s educational programming space with solution oriented morning shows. We bring Social Media to TV with the vision to “Engage, Entertain and Educate the World Through Marketing and Content Creation.” For a generation upon whom traditional advertising has minimal impact, and real conversations are paving the road for brands, we created the future of branding 18 years ago…which puts us now that much further ahead of the game. We like to provide REAL solutions -- to REAL people -- and give brands a human face, all in a positive manner. Beyond that, we wrap everything we do on the broadcast side with the swarm of the digital world, and create a two-sided conversation and viral effect around everything we do. It’s Branded Entertainment. It’s Branded Education. It’s Branded Engagement – And it’s a BRAND new world! Visit o2mediainc.com for more information, and don’t miss the show websites at thebalancingact.com and designingspaces.tv.