“Branded Entertainment” is certainly a buzzword combination that has gained popularity with increasing Internet bandwidth and the rise of Online Video. Also, In 2011, Internet advertising revenue, with an annual total of over 36 billion dollars, surpassed Cable TV ($32.5 billion) for the first time in history. The opportunity to make money with online content now is huge!
Throughout the years (starting around 2008, when Online Videos emerged as an interesting model) I have had some amazing experiences with brands and some daunting ones. This has ranged from feeling like I was from a different planet when pitching the idea of Online Video to meetings during which the agency team interrupted me to say that I am making them look bad simply because they weren’t the ones who came up with the idea first.
Overall however, working with brands can be a wonderful challenge and a lot of fun, since once your goals are aligned, they really have your back… and unlike some “independent” investors, they actually pay the bills!
So here is what I have learned gets the advertiser’s attention:
It’s not about you. It’s about the brand. Well… it’s about you if your content identity aligns with the one of the brand.
In other words, if you have studied the brand’s core message, tone, “voice”, visual representation (such as logo and color schemes), and have created characters and a story that you are passionate about, but that ALSO represent the client’s brand message, tone, “voice” and visuals, then your chances of getting some money to go shoot the project are much higher.
Seek out the brands you personally are passionate about and know well. You will be authentic and sound less like a salesman and more like a true brand ambassador, who has the confidence and talent to turn the client’s money into a series of videos that convinces an audience to check out (and hopefully buy!) their products.
In my opinion, there are three key players:
1- Publisher (or content creator)
2- Brand (or advertiser)
Each player needs to be treated as equally important to add up to the biggest profit for everyone involved. In this context, the publisher’s profit comes from getting paid for their work and getting more work from the same or other brand clients. The brand’s profit comes from selling products and paying as little as possible for advertising with high ROI. The audience’s profit comes from being entertained and gaining awareness of a product they might like or get cheaper than expected.
This is just a rough overview, but we recently published an eBook (see here) that goes into detail about these basic dynamics and key players, additionally discussing who else is on the brand side (e.g. media buyers) and what everyone wants and expects from each other.
Brands do generally not grant subsidies and/or invest into brilliant story ideas just because they are brilliant. They are in the business of selling products. And in order to sell products they need consumers, which in our case is the third key player – the audience.
So even if your idea is genius and presents the brand in the most positive light, it doesn’t really matter unless it reaches an audience.
This means you either bring a significant amount of built-in audience with your project (via established social channels, blogs, YouTube, etc.) or you have a clear plan and a good idea of how and why your project will reach an audience… and not just any audience, but specifically the brand client’s target audience.
It doesn’t hurt to treat this part like the marketing and sales strategy of a business plan, where you do a market analysis that lays out some detail about where exactly you intend to reach the audience and why your product is a great way to achieve that goal (including some historical data how a similar strategy has worked wonders for other brand’s in the past certainly helps!).
If you get to the point where you say, “holy crap, this strategy might actually work!” – that’s when you know you are on the right path and the project is soon ready to be presented to a brand.
We all might know this term from Hollywood where big talent agencies “package” a project to include “above-the-line-talent” like actors, directors, producers, and writers. The basic idea here is to have at least one of those elements covered with “name talent” that in some way guarantees an audience, either by bringing their own fan base or having done a similar project (like the one you are currently pitching) that successfully reached a large audience in the past.
Hollywood and Madison Avenue have yet again found a way to work together – now it’s on digital platforms. While in the “early days” of Branded Entertainment web-series (around 2008 / 2009) brands tended to be more willing to risk money on projects without “valuable” talent attached, nowadays, since they are getting a lot more pitches, it definitely is more of a standard to present a project with a package rather than just the idea or concept. This goes back to thinking about what your package means to the brand in terms of reaching their target audience.
The Hollywood and Madison Avenue marriage is both discouraging and a fantastic challenge, because the lines have blurred. Great talent doesn’t necessarily just grow on the “Hollywood” tree any more, but now can also appear on platforms like YouTube… which all of us can control and work on.
Other small, but valuable lessons I have learned that no one teaches at school are:
Don’t just go after big brands; seek out smaller brands that still need to increase brand awareness in the marketplace and appreciate every opportunity to do so. They also have money!
Do in depth research on the brand you want to pitch to and get an understanding for their creative and business goals (e.g. what campaigns have they financed in the past, what audience segment are they after, have their strategies changed or stayed the same over the years, who is their ad agency of record, etc.).
Put together a media kit! Many people forget to do this or don’t even know it’s necessary. It’s basically a “mini” business plan with a focus on your offering for the brand. Either search “Martha Stewart media kit” on Google (it will give you a great idea of what it looks like content-wise), or check out www.DforConsulting.com where we offer to build the media kit for you. That’s right, we do it for you!
Before reaching out to brands, try to get one of their lower sales people (mostly at an ad or media buy agency) on the phone and ask them what they are currently looking for, so that you can tailor your media kit to their needs. Just know: you will most likely not get any answers out of them until you have built a relationship with the brand, so it’s a bit of a catch 22; but it’s always worth a shot to get ahead! Sometimes they trust you over the phone and will share some valuable information. Ask them specific questions like “have you considered digital video campaigns?”, and you will get an idea of how they feel about it.
Advertisers and their agencies plan their annual budgets around August, September, and October, so you should pitch your ideas way before then to tap into their budget for the following year.
Sometimes, at the end of the year, ad agencies are faced with remaining media buy money they haven’t spent during the year. Instead of returning it to their clients they prefer to spend it on campaigns that might not be entirely traditional or risk-free, but offer high ROI potential for “little money” . This is a great time and opportunity to present an idea that can be turned around within a matter of days or a weeks, so they can still spend their money before their fiscal year ends.
Read AdAge.com, it’s a great resource to stay in the loop about developments in advertising.
A word about web-series
In my experience, just contacting a brand or agency with a web-series idea rarely works. You have to give them a really solid reason to listen, because their inboxes and voicemails are full of ideas.
If you start your pitch with, “I believe I have found a concept that might reach over one million viewers in your target demo females 25-34…,” chances are they will be all ears. Pitching that you “have found a cheap way to produce an alien attack that features BMW’s…,” will probably not work. But hey, you never know who you are speaking to and what mood they are in! They might just happen to like your bold approach.
Also, web-series don’t necessarily have to be narrative or scripted. I have seen great ideas that feature non-scripted concepts, such as reality or variety shows. The longer you can engage an audience and the deeper of a connection they feel with the brand, the better!
I believe a great web-series format is something that has the bandwidth to entertain an audience with short videos on a weekly, if not daily basis and lets the audience participate even if they haven’t seen the first few episodes. A series of many short, stand-alone videos work very well in my experience. The more flexible and “sharable” they are with bit-size content that interests a lot of people, the better.
In the end it all comes down to the audience. So as a producer of a Branded Entertainment web-series you should think both like a brand executive who has to sell lots of products as well as a studio executive who has to land a big box office hit. Both are dependent on the customer, and if they are happy, everyone is happy!
About the author:
As CEO of United Motion Entertainment, his current projects include the recently launched online magazine “Luminary Daily”, a soon to be announced social media app, and consulting on digital initiatives for The Walt Becker Company (producer/director “Van Wilder”, “Wild Hogs”) as well as other entertainment, advertising, and start-up clients through “D. For Consulting”, a Los Angeles based consulting firm focused on digital content monetization.