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Post Strike TV future portends big changes for placement and integration?

Originally published in "1to1 Magazine"

Tom Meyer

LOS ANGELES (1To1 Magazine) - If you had asked most media prognosticators in November 2007 what the lasting effects of the WGA strike would be, they would have told you that it was likely television programming would be harmed irreparably and people would head to the web in droves. However, the recent failure of “Quarterlife” a moderately successful web show graduated to network TV, is the exclamation point on the “Oops, I was wrong” admission - providing a compelling case study to the contrary that the same content can live successfully on the Internet and network TV.   While it’s too early to say what long term effect the strike has had on the television and emerging media landscape, it is clear broadcast TV audiences will continue to slowly erode and go somewhere else -  maybe online or quite possibly a new destination. 

That being said, with the strike finally over Hollywood returns to business as usual – with tightened belts and budgets.

Of course, it’s also back to the status quo in the integration and product placement industry.  Within the past three years, this industry has finally been recognized as a viable advertising and media solution.  Eager to take advantage of the growing opportunities, most advertisers and their agencies are working with Hollywood to figure out how to get it right , experimenting as they go.  As expected with any new and untested venture, failures easily outnumber successes.  And while failure is debatable, I’ll guarantee you the person who recognizes failure the most, is the person brands are trying to convince: the consumer.

The modern era of brand/product integration is still nascent.  Product placement and integration has been around since the 1950’s and was “blatant and obvious” when it was done - mostly in variety shows.  But now, brands in TV shows and films represent reality and strive to mirror the world as you know it.  It makes sense to present what’s real as a world where brands doesn’t exist.  It’s almost too obvious, not to mention unsettling, when we see a clean set free of any brand logos or worse, the dreaded generic product.  Today’s television is too slickly packaged for the old school method and demands a new approach.  That new approach is echoed in a saying we use around our office: “If it won’t be organic, authentic and relevant, don’t do it.” 

That filter necessitates an approach to the creative most agencies and clients don’t understand. The language gap between the brand side and the Hollywood side isn’t really a gap, it’s a Grand Canyon... To us, it isn’t simply about buying media, getting some added value and throwing a brand inside the show.  What it truly is is the careful consideration of the content – treating it with respect and understanding that people watch because it’s compelling entertainment - not to see your brand.  If they wanted to watch your advertising, they’d stick around for the commercial pods or throw away the TiVo remote.  We now fully realize that the notion that all the people who watch the show also stick around to watch the commercials is folly.  The process of integration is a creative endeavor with nuances, and if misunderstood, can denigrate the brand in the consumer’s eyes.

Perhaps that is why most advertisers and networks default to reality television as a safer bet.  Even though it’s an unreal “real” world, the environments are not constructed sets from the imagination of an art director but real places (sort of) where brands and products live and breathe in their natural environment.

And integration within emerging media?  Online and mobile content is where brands need to go to experiment.  It’s a lot less expensive and 15 million people are generally not watching every episode.  So if you screw up, no harm no foul – and there are endless opportunities to try over and over again until the method is perfected.

Lastly, if the budget won’t be approved without serious metrics in place to measure the effectiveness of brand integration, put the checkbook away.  There are no standards in place and there probably will not be any accepted measurement value for quite some time.  Experimentation requires a leap of faith – you’re not doing this to reach more eyeballs, you’re doing it because you want to be innovative and engaging – and make sure you catch that consumer before they take that bathroom break during your commercial pod…

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Copyright © 2008 Davie Brown Entertainment

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