2011 Upfront to Have Greater Focus on Branded Integration Concepts

Look for multiplatform branded integration concepts to be a bigger part of the upfront season conversation this year. Here's the reason: With consumers being offered more ways to interact with media than ever before, resulting in less effective traditional ads, marketers are pouring more dollars into the branded content sector.

And at least some of those investments are paying off. Case in point: Kimberly Clark. The package goods marketer is a big believer in traditional TV advertising. In 2010 it spent more than $160 million on spots, according to ad tracker Kantar Media.

But last year, the company also took a broader approach with its Poise brand of feminine pads and liners that faced a unique challenge: Most women didn't want to talk about the embarrassing problem the product was designed to address-so-called light bladder leakage.

Working with its agency, Mindshare, the client's approach took the form of a multiplatform brand integration campaign that started with "mini-films" on the Internet that featured Whoopi Goldberg portraying (in her unique comedic style) "Great Women in History," such as Cleopatra and Mona Lisa, who were reimagined as having had to deal with LBL issues.

Goldberg also did a lengthy segment on the heretofore taboo subject for The View, the ABC daytime show she co-hosts. The segment featured a "Get Poised" backdrop, a montage of Whoopi's Women in History mini-films and a discussion of the issue with Missy Lavender of the Women's Health Foundation.

That effort was followed by a TV ad campaign that's ongoing and features Goldberg in material taken from the Web series. The first ad ran during ABC's Oscars coverage. And there's a retail component too with Whoopi's Women in History characters installed as part of in-store shelf-talkers.

The Poise campaign is just one example of the growing interest in multiplatform brand integrations. According to Mindshare Entertainment president David Lang, changing media habits are driving the interest.

"It's just a quickly changing marketplace," he says. "You have fragmentation, broadband critical mass, DVRs and technology taking consumers to new places." Not to mention, he added, the fact that the 30-second spot, while still effective, is not as impactful as it once was. "You put all that together and marketers constantly need to look at how they reach, engage and interact with consumers." And the integration strategy certainly got a conversation going about LBL and Poise: 2010 was the best sales year ever for the nearly two decades old brand.

Integrations aren't new of course and they're executed across many media, including TV, theatrical films, print and the Internet. According to a recent PQ Media report, branded entertainment is roughly a $25 billion business in the U.S. now, with expected annual growth of more than 9%. Buyers estimate the TV portion of that to be approximately $5 billion and expect 10% annual growth in the future.

It's not surprising, therefore, to hear sellers say that they're spending more time and resources devising branded integration strategies for their clients. And it's not just broadcast networks, but cable nets and syndication that offer such opportunities.

"It's a great part of what we do and a growing part of how we do business," says Jim Agius, SVP, ad sales, A&E Television Networks.

The network has done a number of recent branded integration projects including Fix This Kitchen, with sponsor Ikea, produced by the client's media agency MEC, and which was recently renewed for a second season. MEC came up with an idea for a program that combined celebrity chefs with a kitchen makeover concept as part of a broader marketing campaign that also included links to both A&E and client Websites, in-store appearances from celebrity chefs (who also appeared on the show), book signings, point-of-sale materials and a targeted direct mail campaign.

While MEC handled the Ikea project, A&E also creates custom content in-house. One example: Fix This Yard, with sponsor Home Depot.

Agius says that discussions regarding such multiplatform integrations are taking up a greater part of upfront talks with many clients. That said, those talks don't always start and conclude in the upfront. "It's often tough to wrap up a deal like that within the frenzy that is the upfront," he says. "We'll often start the conversation well before the market begins and what we try to do is make sure an idea is well received and vetted with the agency and client so that as we go through the process it's part of the discussion rather than being an afterthought."

Syndication shows are active in the sector as well. Earlier this year, Hilton agency OMD did a deal with The Ellen DeGeneres Show to help promote the client's Embassy Suites brand for family summer vacations. Ellen hit the road and visited a family at one of the Embassy Suites California properties, and a tape of the encounter was integrated into an episode of the show. An online sweepstakes was also developed to drive viewership to the episode.

And while sellers and buyers contend that 30-second spots won't be going away anytime soon, Agius submits that "certainly the way people are consuming content is changing every day and we have to be open to other ways of business with our clients." And at $5 billion and counting, branded integrations have clearly proven to be an effective supplement to many TV advertiser media plans.