It’s been a while since I’ve seen an article proclaiming, “TV is dead”, thankfully. But the options available to consumers in how they consume TV content continues to evolve and change. Given the popularity of streaming and OTT (Over The Top) services like Netflix and Hulu, brands are having to be more creative in reaching those who have either ‘cut the cord’ or prefer to consume some content in ways that allow them to side-step broadcast commercials.
At least that’s what they’d tell you.
But if you watched Hulu’s Four Weddings and a Funeral, you definitely saw an ad for Hotels.com. You see, the folks at Hotels.com have launched a very clever social promotion and tie-in with the show. About two months ago, Hotels.com launched a new contest to help newlyweds cover the cost of their honeymoon expense. Couples that incorporate Hotels.com into their wedding vows, film it, and share online with a special hashtag are entered to win $15,000 towards their honeymoon.
The contest piggybacks the brand integration with Hulu’s new Four Weddings show. In an episode where a faux reality TV show sponsors a wedding between two characters, millennials Craig and Zara have their wedding sponsored by Hotels.com, Zara’s veil is emblazoned with the brand’s logo, and even the Hotels.com mascot makes a guest appearance as the wedding DJ.
Brand Integration Must Bring Your Brand To Life
Speaking to Ad Age, Mike Wolfe, head of global creative, sponsorships and partnerships for Hotels.com says, “We’re always looking for new, creative ways to connect Hotels.com to what’s happening in pop culture and media in the lives of Millennial travelers. Our integration with ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ brings our brand to life on screen in a unique, irreverent way that really shows off the Hotels.com personality.”
And this is just one of nearly a half dozen integrations worked into the show. They demonstrate Hulu’s hands-on approach to going after brand partnerships and product placement opportunities. As quoted in AdWeek, Nicole Sabatini, Hulu’s VP and head of integrated marketing says, “When a show is greenlit, my team immediately talks to the producers and the studio of that particular show to have a general conversation around having brand stories woven [in]. Simultaneously, we’re having ongoing conversations with advertisers. It’s an ever-evolving collaboration.”
While Hulu seems to have the most buttoned-up playbook, brands are also looking to other streaming services. Again, as AdWeek reports, “Routing brand integrations through content producers works on Amazon Prime Video, too. Branded Entertainment Network (BEN), which helps brands strategize and execute product placements, recently arranged deals directly with producers to place Cheerios in Amazon Prime Video original series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel along with two Netflix originals, said Erin Schmidt, BEN’s chief strategy and client service officer.”
Those that pay a premium for streaming services often miss ads. And ad blocking technologies pose additional problems to online advertisers. Brand integrations are attractive to brands because they offer a chance to insulate from these new challenges. But we need to be careful. When you scale this trend out by a few factors to bordering on absurd, you’ll end up in a “Truman Show” kind of parody where brands and products are so specifically identified and woven into storylines that the content ends up turning people off. While I applaud the innovative thinking on the part of Hulu and the Hotels.com team, the actual show has yet to receive favorable reviews.
As Mark Ritson said over 10 years ago, as he bemoaned the brand sponsorship overreach in that year’s James Bond movie, “Heineken is currently spending millions to try to create a global consistency in which its beer appears wherever Bond goes, but the real 007 would find that insufferable. His tastes change with his location. In Kentucky he drinks bourbon, in Athens it’s ouzo, in Belgrade slivovitz. Rather than conform to dreary global branding, he enjoys the intricate pleasures of local cultures and products.”
What is clear though is how imperative it is that brands continue to challenge accepted forms of connecting with customers. Creative product placements need to go beyond simple time on camera or being worked into a dialogue. They need to connect to the reality we live in, across channels and tactics, in ways that are subtle enough not to distract, but impactful enough that they get noticed.
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