Friday, 5 August 2011

Send in the Clowns to Boost Your Sales Figures

Send in the Clowns to Boost Your Sales Figures


Sarah Silverman is describing various reasons she might kill and dismember an old man on a deserted island. Warmth, shade and food are compelling reasons the comedienne offers, but one use in particular stands out. Turning his skin into a tarp.

This conversation is taking place on behalf of Denny’s as part of their Always Open series, a collection of short videos that feature comedian David Koechner chatting with his peers and nibbling on plates of food at Denny’s.

This is a prime example of branded entertainment, a form of marketing that involves creating entertainment-focused videos and experiences that are designed to serve the interests of a marketer.

Leave It to the Pros

In the early days of television, shows were actually produced by ad agencies, who baked client sponsorship into the programming by writing story lines around the products and services they were paid to promote.

For example, Kraft Television Theatre was considered a “prestige” show for NBC during its run from 1947 to 1958. James Dean, Lee Grant, Jack Lemmon, Cloris Leachman, Paul Newman and Leslie Nielsen were among the ranks of those that acted on the show.

After falling out of fashion as advertising splintered off into increasingly isolated spaces, branded entertainment made a comeback in the last decade as clients and agencies looked for new canvases to paint on and for ways to get people paying attention to advertising, which is increasingly tuned out through time-shifted TV viewing and other innovations.

The New Wave

In the branded entertainment renaissance of the last decade, agencies led. And as a result, the work felt like it came from the culture of advertising. The ideas were funny, clever, simple and conceptual.

Something like the Swagger Wagon music video, in which Toyota hired middle-aged actors to celebrate the minivan by rapping about taking their kids to day care and cleaning up spilled milk, is good for a laugh but ultimately unsatisfying as a true entertainment product.

But now performers are becoming central again and leading the development of content that feels like genuine entertainment while still addressing client needs. For example, Jason Bateman and Will Arnett’s company DumbDumb created the Arby’s Always Open series on behalf of the restaurant chain.

This model seems to be paying off. In the months following the release of the Always Open videos, Denny’s saw a staggering increase in awareness of its restaurants in the coveted 18-34 demo. BrandIndex reported a rise in impression score from 6.2% to 25.4%, which means that many more respondents reported “positive feelings” towards the brand.

Selling Out: Not What It Used to Be

The increasingly central role of entertainers in the creation of branded entertainment is symptomatic of a shift in culture.

While it used to be frowned upon for a performer to get involved with advertising, it is now accepted and celebrated. Actors used to flock to Japan and other foreign markets to film product endorsements that would not be seen by their core American audiences; now they more freely accept sponsorship deals stateside. Bands used to refuse having their music used in advertising; now many indie bands get their big break from inclusion in TV spots.

Make Your Brand the Funny Guy in the Room

Just like any other tactic, branded entertainment should be deployed when it makes sense strategically. It can be a particularly effective way of targeting a niche audience and is also helpful in creating extended engagement with viewers when you need more time to make your point.

So how do you get started? Your agency can help define the strategy and select the right talent to work with. Once you find the right entertainers, give them some room to address your goals in their way. After all, much of what you are paying for is the reputation of the performers, and people that seek out your creations will be looking for the same things they enjoy about the performers’ regular work.

In an increasingly competitive media environment, brands need every advantage they can get to edge out the competition. Consider staffing from the Hollywood talent pool when you need to get the attention of a tough demographic or hold people’s interest for an extended period of time.

Greg Steen, 08.04.2011

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