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  • Writer's pictureHearst Pittsburgh

Quick Guide to Brand Integration

What is brand integration?

Brand integration is the strategic incorporation of a brand or product into entertainment media. It's meant to increase brand visibility, interest, and recognition by embedding a brand within familiar and favorable content. Decades of case studies and research demonstrate that brand integration is impactful because it allows advertisers to show – rather than tell – the audience about their products without disrupting their entertainment.

Is Brand Integration the Same as Product Placement?

Sort of. Product placement and brand integration are individual tactics nested within the overall discipline of “entertainment marketing." You can think of brand integration as the next generation of product placement.

Product placement is the legacy term for embedding a product in a film or show. It’s been around for over one hundred years. In the 1890s, Unilever soaps were featured in Lumière films. In the 20s, shows incorporated branded elements into their sets, like the gasoline signs hung that on the walls in popular program, The Garage. In 1927 the Academy-Award winning film Wings prominently featured shots of Hershey’s candy bars. By the 1980s, the term "product placement" was officially introduced, and corporations were clamoring to secure their brand’s placement in blockbuster films where their reach was huge and their spends were steep.

Brand integration goes a step beyond displaying products or logos throughout a movie or show. It's more involved as the brand is carefully woven into the story and helps to advance the narrative. It lends a sense of realism to the story and the brand.

Take Coca-Cola for example. As a long-standing leader in the brand integration space, they created a unique campaign to incorporate Coke in the FIFA 18 videogame. Working with EA Sports, they created a storyline for the game's cinematic mode, called The Journey. In this mode, players navigate the virtual Major League Soccer circuit as the fictional athlete Alex Hunter. In the course of the gameplay, Hunter receives an endorsement deal with Coke. Players work through this storyline, going behind the virtual scenes at Coke to film the Hunter's endorsement and promote the product as they interact with fans. They've gone from being sold the brand in the real world to selling it themselves in the virtual world.

Brand Integration is on the Rise

Brand integration is no longer just for Fortune 100 companies, blockbusters, and network TV. In today’s ever-expanding universe of content, entertainment options can expand and delve into ever-narrower topics. That means brand integration can also be more niche and personalized than ever. With social media, video games, and emerging streaming channels, the opportunities are boundless.

The growing brand integration trend is also connected to (if not accelerated by) the shifts we’re seeing in the world of streaming. As the next chapter of the streaming wars unfolds, free ad-supported TV (FAST) is likely to be a key battlefield. The FAST market is expected to grow at a 25% compound annual growth rate from 2021 to 2023, driven by demand for low-cost content (PWC). Given that, brand integrations are often a win-win-win for advertisers, production companies, and audiences. They provide exposure for brands, generate ad revenue to the production side, and cut down on interruption-based advertising for an improved viewer experience.

Brand integration is authentic, memorable, and rewatchable.

We know that Marty McFly sports Nikes, a Wilson volleyball can be a friend in a pinch, and an extraterrestrial creature will follow a trail of Reese’s Pieces if you make one. Brand integrations cement connections in our collective cultural memory. Entertainment media is watched, rewatched, and shared, so the brand integration is not timebound or limited to the reach of the original viewing.

Importantly, brand integration is not interruption-based advertising. We recently took a deep dive into “ad aversion” on this blog, but to summarize: audiences are great at avoiding marketing messaging in digital environments, especially when those ads feel transactional. Weaving a brand into the story creates a non-skippable and non-blockable advertisement that doesn’t look or sound like an ad, so it's unlikely to distract or annoy audiences.

In fact, brand integration can enhance the viewing experience. In the adrenaline-pumped action sequences of the Fast and Furious movie franchise, the characters don't rely on just any car. They create a fun and positive association with the Dodge Charger while demonstrating the car's features, from the sharp interiors, precision handling, and jaw-dropping speed. The Charger's starring role enhances the action and cool factor. Suffice it to say, brand integration has come a long way since the set designers hung Red Crown Gasoline signs on the wall of The Garage.

Does brand integration work?

A Nielsen study cited by the Journal of Management and Marketing Research found that product placement on TV can raise brand recognition by 20%. A study by Williams, Petrosky, Hernandez, & Page Jr (2011) found that just over 57% of T.V. viewers recognized a brand after its product placement in a show. So, yes brand integrations work when they’re done right.

Done right, brand integration can delight your existing and potential customers. But what does doing it right look like?

Brand integration succeeds when the brand and the content in which it’s embedded have a clear and organic connection. That connection is the north star the integration strategy, guiding where, when, and how the products are placed in the entertainment content.

One particularly successful placement that viewers might remember is the Buick Enclave driven by Reese Witherspoon’s character in Big Little Lies. The placement led to a 70% increase in brand opinion and a 90% increase in purchase consideration for Buick, according to internal data (Marketing Brew). The brand integration worked because it embedded the sleek, high-end SUV in the show’s stylized world and upscale lifestyles of the characters on a premium cable network. Without so much as a promotional word, the campaign created context by showing that the Enclave was a desirable product for high-end consumers, in the fictional world of Big Little Lies and beyond.

Very Local Brand Integration

Looking for another way to create a clear and organic connection between your brand and entertainment content? Go local!

Very Local Pittsburgh the region's one and only local streaming channel. Available for free on-demand, it not only delivers all new series from our community; it also creates exciting new avenues for local advertising. Learn more about how you can embed your brand in original new shows that are all about Pittsburgh.


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