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What is brand integration? For many, it traditionally meant product placement, which includes showing a brand name product in a feature film, television program, or other medium not typically thought of as an advertisement. Like many other marketing strategies, product integration has also evolved with all the changes in technology.

Advertisers have paid for placements as far back as the earliest days of film. Many of the placements that most cite as the biggest success stories, are Ray-Ban in “Risky Business” and Federal Express in the 2000 film “Cast Away.” These placements were thought up by writers or filmmakers and didn’t cost the brands any placement fees or promotional dollars.  And considered by far the most successful product integration of all time was Reese’s Pieces in the blockbuster classic “E.T.”


Beginning in 1998, with the arrival of TiVo, advertisers took note at the potential product integration brought to the table. Today, both the advertising and broadcasting industries are gearing themselves up to find innovative ways to maintain their economic status and raising new questions about the boundaries between entertainment, art and commercialism.

With changing technology, viewers are able to fast-forward or skip commercials shown throughout a program. So, advertisers are looking for ways to incorporate their products into shows viewed on many  forms of media, such as online at Hulu.com, TV.com, the TV Network’s Web site and iPods. Some of the most recent success stories have been Coke interaction on American Idol,” Sears on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Verizon on “30Rock,” as well as Apple and Sky Vodka on “Sex and the City.” The difference today is that writers and producers are not incorporating specific brands into shows and movies because they feel it will add more the story, but because TV networks have contracts with specific brands.

I recently had the chance to find out what it is like to be on the other side of product integration. I interviewed Whit Freise, producer-technical consultant, in charge of the product integration within the TNT series “Trust Me.” For “Trust Me, Friese was limited to the several brands that had already built a relationship with the TNT network by spending millions of dollars each year to advertise during their programs. By using those products, the network is able to maintain a strong bond between the brand and TNT, showing the brands they are valuable to the network. For “Trust Me”, they were contracted with brands, such as Dove, Buick, Rolling Rock and Starbucks. Not only did you see these brands heavily incorporated into the shows plot, but if you watched the show without any advanced technology on your TV, during the commercial breaks you also would see advertisements for those same products that were integrated into the show. Talk about GENIUS. Show the target audience your product in use, and then show them a commercial where they can purchase it!

Since the average person interprets what they view on television as reality, which is then perceived as true, advertisers are spending big bucks to get their products seamlessly woven into storylines and reality television. Placing them within the shows makes characters and their activities seem more real, and viewers see a product being used by their favorite characters. If you’re the brand being used, you’re one happy customer!

Today, mass media is all advertising, all the time, and the fear is it will create a generation of pessimistic viewers, who look at everything on the screen as an attempt to sell something. Although, according to John Eggerton of Broadcasting and Cable, the average viewer doesn’t necessarily notice product integration during their favorite programming. The only reason product integration is being scrutinized now is because it has become more noticeable with the rise of reality television. The lack of scripts and focus on “real world” situations easily lends itself to the integration of products and brand names. The question is, are networks integrating so much that it is annoyingly obvious? Are viewers going to find every technologically advanced way to avoid watching commercials because there are already so many in-your-face advertisements while watching a program?

When it comes to boundaries, Friese believes a network’s goal is to produce entertainment and make money. If a show can do both while using product integration rather than puffery, there are no boundaries being crossed. Product integration is not deceptive advertising; it’s a service to a brand. Brands are looking to get their products into shows. If a product fits into the show’s content seamlessly and is not forced, both parties benefit.

Respecting the audience is vital. Choosing brands that have the same value to both the show and its characters is essential. The network is responsible for what is done, said and/or used during their shows, and they have to be willing to take full responsibility if they are scrutinized. Shows are going to start focusing more on the values of a brand, rather than merely using props to fill a set and build a character. Friese used the example that a show may have integrated all Buick automobiles into a show, using each style of car to represent the different types of characters and/or situations. Producers may not linger on the car logo as long, but based on the story line, viewers will know what their favorite characters are driving. With this tactic, product integration is only going to continue to grow.

While product integration dates back to the very first days of both film and television, it has never before had the kind of revenue-generating potential for networks and studios that it has today, nor the potential to change the face of the entertainment industry. Brand integration not only gives brands starring roles in film and television but also attracts advertisers who are willing to spend millions of dollars to produce entertainment.

As an advertiser, I think product integration is a great idea for brands that have the money to invest. Watching a show with product integration gives the characters personality and allows viewers a chance relate to a program. Not to mention, a product can build frequency by having the product advertised before, during and after a program. Although, not all product integration is trying to sell something, some product integration just works best with the story line or character.

As a consumer, I notice product integration all the time. I often wonder if technology has evolved too much that advertisers are going too far to get their products noticed. Have viewers developed a negative view of the brand or the even the media because advertisers are bombarding programs before, during and after with their product’s information? Has product integration made the television viewing experience bad?

At the end of the day, a show still needs to be entertaining, or no one will watch.

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One of our recent blog entries gave tips on how to market your business when the economy is slow. One of the items on the list said to maximize your use of social media. So what does that mean exactly?

Last week I took our own advice and attended a social media seminar hosted by the Triangle Interactive Marketing Association (TIMA). The guest speaker was Peter Shankman, founder and CEO of The Geek Factory, Inc. Shankman is known worldwide for his fun and different ways of using social media and marketing. I really appreciated the fact that right off the bat he said that he was not going to tell us how to be a social media expert. Instead, he was straight forward, humorous and used real life examples to enlighten us on the current social media setting. To practice what Shankman preaches, I wanted to pass along some key points that I took out of the seminar for others to share.

  • If you post a video on YouTube, have you created a viral campaign for your client? NO. Simply posting something doesn’t make it viral. That is why it is important to use strategy to come up with a creative message, the right people to target your message to and the right places to put your message so those people see it and pass it along. It also doesn’t hurt if you make it interesting or bizarre. An example of this would be the Diet Coke and Mentos eruption. The experiment was done on a news show in 2005, by Steve Spangler, and then took off on the Internet. Only when people are talking about your message and passing it along to others can your message become viral. This also reminds me of a video that was emailed to me a long time ago by a friend. It was a guy dancing to different songs throughout the years. It was titled, The Evolution of Dance. This video ended up getting a lot of attention because so many of us talked about it and passed it along.
  • If you are on many of the social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Linked In, and have many friends on those sites, it means you are using social media sites effectively, right? WRONG. I love this point because Shankman really got the audience involved on this one. At one point while he was speaking he asked the audience, “How many of you have over 1000 friends on Facebook?” I saw about 5-10 hands go up. One of which was from a young woman sitting near me. She was smiling and confident about those 1000 friends. Then Shankman asked, “Ok those of you who raised your hands, out of the 1000 people, how many of them have written on your wall to wish you a Happy Birthday?” The girl next to me started counting out loud and thinking real hard about it. I heard the number 12 come out of her mouth. Then Shankman said, “I bet those of you who raised their hands are suddenly realizing that it was only about 1-5% of those 1000 people.” What is important is not how many networks you are on or how many friends you have, but are you using the sites effectively. So whether you are on the sites or not, you must interact with people. Congratulate them, say hi or offer to take someone out to lunch because it’s all about the interaction.
  • Lastly, we all need to utilize the Raving Fans. Raving Fans is a book by Ken Blanchard & Sheldon Bowles, about how a company should convert satisfied customers into raving fans that promote their business. Any company that has a customer who is pleased with their product needs to capitalize on that. That customer has other friends who may need the product and if they are raving about you they may tell those friends. So have places for customers to voice their opinions about your product. Whether it is on a social network or your website, let them give their review. When a person speaks highly of your product, give him or her something back. Give coupons, gift certificates, free t-shirts or branded items with a personalized note. This will have your fans thinking your company or product is even more wonderful and will help them promote you further.

Jim Tobin, of Ignite Social Media, calls social networking a Virtual Cocktail Party. You need to mingle and connect with those people you don’t know and start a relationship. For those people who you have existing relationships with, you need to see how they are doing, meet with them and maintain that connection. Social media is not a competition to see who has the most friends… it’s a means for building and maintaining relationships. If you are in it for the long haul then social media is for you. If you are a commitment phobe then maybe you should rethink your use of social media.

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