Leveraging Brands As A Plot Storyline In TV


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Taking Product Placement Further By Buying Storylines 

ABC's Black-ish has never been one to shy away from current culture and climate in the past, regularly integrating narratives within the show to echo larger scale topics ranging from popular culture to politics. In a recent episode pop culture again permeated our world and integrated itself as the central focus, more specifically, an ad campaign by Procter & Gamble titled 'The Talk'. 

Now, it's no secret that advertiser-funded programming marks itself as a crucial source of money for broadcasters, and in fact, numerous TV shows have taken that one step further by creating storyline driven advertiser-funded dialogue.  In this blog, Hollywood Branded explores how advertisers are leveraging brands as a plot storyline in TV, and provides case study examples of this not-so-new advertising practice your brand should know about. 

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P&G's Mold-Breaking Integration
In ABC's Black-ish episode that I'm talking about, several key characters discussed P&G’s award-winning ad campaign, 'The Talk', which was described to convey: "Conversations black parents have had with their children through the decades to prepare them for the racial bias that they may face in the world."  Now, this wasn't the first time Black-ish creators baked in a whole storyline around a brand.  In fact, they did that with State Farm, and with Microsoft previously.  So they've kinda made it their 'thing.'  And it really works for both the network financially, the brand in terms of eyeballs and engagement, and - perhaps most importantly - the viewers, who aren't turned off by the blatant storylines, and actually have major online conversations supporting the in show ideologies of the characters.
This particular episode involved the main protagonist Dre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) – the father of the family and an ad executive – developing an advertising campaign with the focus surrounding P&G’s 'The Talk'.
Not to mention prior to the episode, Creator and Executive Producer of Black-ish, Kenya Barris, featured in a tweet posted on the show's official account a day before the episode aired. Giving fans a small taste as to the content, and a look into the integration before it came to fruition on their television screens. According to an ABC spokesperson Barris also had a hand in developing the dialogue and episode to assure they struck the right tone.
So why this show? Rita Ferro, President of Ad Sales at Disney/ABC Television explained: “The ‘black-ish’ series has a successful history of tackling real life issues and addressing them in relatable ways within its episodes.” She went on to say, “Tuesday’s show is another great example of the exemplary work that our sales team does alongside our clients to develop innovative ways to amplify their messages.”
The episode marked a huge success in amalgamating advertising (and editorial for that matter), with consumer goods manufacturer Procter & Gamble paying for a plotline. But the price was well worth it considering the conversations that followed on the internet and electric trending hashtag #MyBlackIsBeautiful which first rolled out in 2017. In an interview with Variety Insight a representative from the company explained that it's 'Talk' short film warranted additional conversation, even dialogue in a more intimate and streamlined media. Thus, the decision to move forwards with such a closely-knit integration.
"When we first aired ‘The Talk’ back in July, there was a huge outpouring of support for the film and more importantly, the underlying message,” said Damon Jones, P&G’s global director of communications, in a statement. “We also received critical responses from others who did not feel the film spoke directly to their experiences. This reinforced our belief that the dialogue around bias not only needs to continue, but it also needs to be broadened so people from different backgrounds and experiences can participate in conversations and more deeply listen to one another, which leads to greater understanding.”
So realistically... know that this partnership cost over $1 million to script in all likelyhood - plus support by an at-minimum $5 million dollar advertising campaign.  Network TV does not traditionally allow storyline or prominent product placement in scripted content without a very high advertising package buy required.  Why?  Well think of it this way.  The network NEEDS to have a stable of continuous advertisers. And if they let 'just anyone' in to pay for a storyline (even at a $1 million price tag)... and didn't require that massive ad buy as well - they'd end up with some very upset advertisers.  Basically - you need to join the club in order to play in the game.  And that high ticket ad buy allows you the entry to explore the scripted storyline build.
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Integration Nation
Hollywood is no stranger to paid integrations, in fact, some of the most lucrative deals between brands have been in direct correlation to film and TV. So, what are some of the other success stories involving brands paying for storyline integration? Well, there's been quiet a few -- all of them equally memorable, and maybe even surprising.
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Friends & Pottery Barn
Keeping with television our first example also comes from a comedy, one of the most recognizable comedies to ever hit sets in the 90's-2000's even... No, we're not biased at all...
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It's a safe bet that you've seen at least one episode of Friends, and if you're like us over at Hollywood Branded you know exactly which episode this one is. Just in case, it's better known as 'The One With the Apothecary Table', (S6, E11) wherein Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) buys an apothecary table from Pottery Barn and tries to keep her roommate, Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), from finding out that she bought it from a chain store.
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Until recently, there were no confirmations from either Pottery Barn or Warner Brother's that the integration was indeed paid for, simply chalked up to the grey area of creative storylines. However, amidst ongoing speculation not only was the episode highly regarded as one of the top in the season, but in 2004 Entertainment Weekly dubbed Pottery Barn's integration in 'The One With the Apothecary Table' as the best product placements on the show!
With a recent bombshell the news broke that Pottery Barn DID in fact pay for the integration, even confirming themselves with one of their executives referring to it as "the gift that keeps on giving" because "phones light up with catalogue requests every time it airs in syndication. 
And while the price tag on the integration remains unknown, Warner Brother's executive, Peter Roth, was quoted in a recent publication saying "off-set the high cost of production."  So how much was that offset?  That isn't public information... but the fact that at the time each of the key cast members was making $1 million per show... and they had 6 primary cast - the budgets were incredibly high, and the network definitely needed some extra dollars coming in.  The show at the time was one of the highest priced shows on network TV, with a fee of over $450k for a :30 spot.
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Mad Men & Heineken
For a show that follows Ad Men in the 1960's there are BOUND to be a few brands that are featured, whether they be in passing or centrical to an episode, Mad Men certainly boasted the most product placement deals (both of the fee and free variety, surprisingly).
In Season 2, Episode 8 'A Night To Remember' gave us an integration to remember with Heineken in the foreground, playing as a central plot device.
In the episode Don Draper (Jon Hamm) learns that Heineken executives are resisting the strategy of marketing the Dutch beer to upscale housewives, to which he recommends setting up trial displays at suburban grocery stores to demonstrate the beer's appeal to women. Later, during a Draper dinner party with Don's colleagues Betty Draper (January Jones) introduces her "trip around the world" menu, including "a frosty glass of beer from Holland" (i.e., Heineken). From there, two Heineken execs hear the results of Don's test marketing and agree to roll out a regional promotion in suburban grocery stores.
The majority of brands featured in Mad Men (like Cadillac, for example) insist their placements were not paid for, however Heineken remained open about paying for the integration. Unfortunately, there are no exact numbers released but we can assume the price was a large one... and given the success of both Mad Men and Heineken, it was money well spent.
Heineken was not the only extensive alcohol brand integrated in the show.  Canadian Club was named Don Draper's drink of choice based on their involvement with the show, and Hollywood Branded worked first hand on that particular integration! To see how integrations like these come about from beginning to end you check out our A Mad Men Case Study on Liquor Placement, and read first hand our experience!  Plus it has a nifty video...
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Casting Call: Your Brand In The Lead Role
Are you looking at exploring fee-based integrations on this scale but not sure who to talk to in order to secure the best deal? Think your brand would be a perfect fit for a particular storyline but don't have the connections? Look no further, Hollywood Branded is here to help! Download our pricing guide and let us help you become a star!
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