In today's New York Times an article by Stephanie Saul describes the latest example of combining brands and entertainment. Said another way, here is another example of taking a brand that no one wants to spend any time thinking about and then finding a way to get people to think about it. Although the Times calls it brand entertainment, I like to call it brand content since the purpose of a brand is to communicate, not necessarily to entertain.
Branded entertainment or brand content is nothing new. The church has been engaged in brand content since the Middle Ages when they commissioned Michaelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. Warning - Brand theory deep dive coming up. Since brands are simple metaphors that stand for collections of complex meaning, they need the benefit of space and time to explore that meaning. It's why a 30 second commercial feels thin and uninformative and something that is longer length feels complete. Since people don't care about brands per se, but about the things that brands do for us - look young when we are old, look old when we are young, how to fit in, how to stand out... any communication that explores any of these bigger issues is interesting and will attract an interested self selecting audience. Once attracted to the "content", the viewer is also attracted to those that represent the content or meaning they like. The brand then becomes the summary metaphor for this collection of meaning (think Nike swoosh).
If you survived the brand theory deep dive and didn't run for the next blog, you can appreciate the newest entries into the brand content arena by Remicade and Toyota. Remicade created a 58 minute film on autoimmune diseases (I can see the lines forming now). The focus of the content is living with autoimmune disease, a topic that is obviously important to anyone with this infliction, a pretty good hook. According to the Centocor spokesman (a Johnson and Johnson company), they are "trying to educate people with these diseases, They're not alone out there."
The only problem with the approach is the entry of other brands and diseases and the urge for everyone to develop their own movies. I can't wait to see revenge of the zits, the story of a boy, a girl and the pimples that destroyed them. Developing compelling content is not easy. If it was, every movie would be a hit. Then again, brands do not need hits or ratings or great box office. They just need viewers. If they connect with their audience, and they reinforce the meaning that they want associated with the brand, then I think it's great. It will be interesting to see how Budweiser does with Bud.tv as described by Carl Long in his blog Experience Curve and Advertising Age editor-at-large Matt Creamer. Tune in to a future blog entry when I'll raise a glass to Bud and their ambitious attempt to create their own TV channel.