Every Sunday night, for one hour, more than 3 million Americans take a glimpse into a bygone era and a slice of corporate life most of them have never known. AMC’s wildly successful scripted drama Mad Men, now in its fifth season, shows viewers what the inner workings of agency life were like back when a small club of men and the ad copy they wrote told the world how to feel.
Forty-plus years later, the world, and more specifically the entertainment world, is obsessed. Between Mad Men and AMC’s latest reality venture The Pitch, consumers are eager to sit on their couches and watch the inner workings of the advertising industry. They’re less inclined to watch the actual advertisements that intersperse these programs. So what’s a modern day Mad Man to do? Look right to the entertainment world, where similar digitally driven struggles have created an environment ripe for collaboration – a mutual obsession.
Obsession is often born out of need. It’s no secret that advertisers are struggling to reach consumers, particularly through traditional means. Why? Options. Consumers are in control. Mobile and on-demand technology has empowered them to consume what they want, when they want, and on any device. The good news? Every waking hour of a consumer’s life is ripe for communication. Multitasking 8-18 year olds pack almost 11 hours of media content into roughly 7.5 hours of consumption per day. The bad news? To meet that increased demand, consumers are facing a massive overload of content – both branded and un-branded, professional and user-generated. 60 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. In this new reality, consumers are much more discerning with what they consume. As a result, traditional advertising channels, including the all-mighty :30 spot, are becoming less impactful. The 40% of consumers who regularly use social media while watching TV are face down in their tablets during commercials breaks, and the 43% of American TV watchers that have a DVR are fast-forwarding through the ads, not the entertainment. So what’s a brand to do? One approach is to try to be the entertainment, rather than distract from it.
The loose industry term for this type of arrangement is “branded entertainment.” It’s a broad genre of brand messaging-infused content that encompasses everything from broadcast television to digital experiences to events. In more simple terms, brands piggyback off the credibility of what we think of as standalone entertainment properties. Brand involvement can range from product placement to sponsorship to production/publishing. Branded entertainment is when you can’t tell if you’re watching The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or the The Girl With the Macbook Pro. It’s when Bravo’s new show Around the World in 80 Plates is very prominently “presented by Chase Sapphire Preferred.” It’s when “Battlegrounds,” a streetball documentary produced by Nike, airs on MTV2. And it works. Jay-Z’s recent show organized by American Express at SXSW for their “Sync, Tweet, Save” platform netted $1.3MM in coupon redemptions and 25,000 new product sign-ups in nine days. Consumers might be fast-forwarding cynics when faced with a standalone brand message, but wrap that message in an entertainment property and suddenly you have a captive audience.
It’s clear why the ad industry is obsessed with entertainment: attention and credibility. But why is the entertainment industry so quick to return the love? The answer is simple: money. Just as multi-screen and time-shifting technologies have rocked the ad world, more democratic distribution and production technologies have hammered the entertainment establishment. Thinking beyond the fuzzy and often overblown issue of piracy, user-generated content and social sharing are the bulls in Hollywood’s china shop. Every day, YouTube nearly doubles the audience of all three major U.S. television networks combined. Yet, the show must go on, albeit with the lingering question of how to fund it. That’s where brands come in. One initial response to diminishing broadcast returns was reality TV, a new format that leveraged consumers as talent. Branded entertainment is the natural next step, leveraging brands as production partners. The next frontier of change is in distribution, as social TVs leverage consumer networks and YouTube allows brands to own original content channels.
As technology proliferates and consumers have more and more flexibility over their consumption choices, the mutual obsession between Mad Men and their entertainment counterparts will continue to grow. It makes too much sense. Everything that advertisers are losing influence over – where consumers pay attention and place their trust, when they consider messaging relevant and how deeply they engage with it – the AMCs and Jay-Zs of the world still have. Everything that the entertainment industry is losing – namely, money – brands are willing to provide. It’s a unique scenario that provides an oddly perfect fit.
The best part? As is the norm when tech becomes more democratic, consumers win. We get more control over what we consume and more access to the content we want. That means more time watching Mad Men and less time watching their ads.