As long as there have been television screens, there have been television sponsors. Television programming began, after all, as a way to sell TV sets. The union between art and commerce sometimes frays but never sunders — and today, it's more important than it has ever been.
If only we knew how to make the marriage work better.
We still don't consistently integrate branding into programming smoothly enough to create advertiser value without compromising the viewing experience — or clumsily blowing up the fourth wall and actively annoying them, which is even worse than being zapped.
But the good news is, we're learning how to be better partners.
We already know content is king. We're beginning to understand that context is kingmaker. And we're beginning to see some very interesting approaches flow out of that learning.
I was particularly intrigued by the recent Dr. Pepper tie-in with NBC's 30 Rock, which featured the show's Dr. Spaceman character in a spot lecturing viewers on how drinking the soft drink could banish boredom, which Ad Age proclaimed "points to a new direction in TV advertising."
That's quite a prediction, so I checked it out with Media Link Chief Creative Officer Sandy Grushow, whose long career as a network executive, marketer and content creator perfectly positions him to evaluate new directions in television. Sandy thinks we'll see a lot more of this kind of intertwining, and he thinks it's a smart response to the meta-reality in the marketplace.
"When you run a conventional 30-second spot in the third position of the second pod of 30 Rock on Thursday night, it's akin to throwing a pea in the ocean," he observes. "Heaven help those marketers who believe they can create a tidal wave that way."
The issue is less about consumers having the technology at their fingertips to actively avoid watching commercials, Sandy believes, and more about the spectacular amount of fragmentation and awe-inspiring number of choices for entertainment and information that exist in the marketplace today. As he puts it, "Marketers have to figure out a way to become both noisier and more relevant to the consumer on a messaging level."
The Dr. Pepper play does that, creating an organic association between two brands, the show and the sponsor. Even better, 30 Rock does it with a wink, creating an implicit and funny dialogue with the audience that says, "We know you're smart enough to understand that we're having fun here."
Sure, only a few dozen entertainment brands are strong enough to support these partnerships and not every sponsor is large enough to afford them. But for those who can, such team-ups make a great deal of strategic sense. Moreover, they also offer a potential hedge against Hollywood's challenging economics, giving content creators and distributors a much-needed opportunity to extend the marketing reach of their shows at a time when budgets are being squeezed and slashed.
So when these deals are done, the links will be both deep and broad to maximize their value for both partners.
As Sandy predicts, "We are coming to a time where it will not be uncommon to see an entertainment brand and a particular sponsor lock arms and travel together across a multitude of platforms in a multitude of ways, associating with each other not just on TV but across the Web, mobile, radio, print and anywhere else they're capable of co-habitating in a mutually beneficial way."
Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
Michael E. Kassan is Chairman and CEO of MediaLink, LLC, a leading Los Angeles and New York City-based advisory and business development firm that provides critical counsel and direction on issues of marketing, advertising, media, entertainment and digital technology. Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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