From Product Placement to Branded Entertainment

Hotels Finding New Ways to Cut Through the Clutter

By Simon Hudson Endowed Chair in Tourism and Hospitality, University of South Carolina | November 02, 2014

Product placement is the insertion of brand logos or branded merchandise into movies and television shows. Since television viewers have a tendency and now the technology to zip through or avoid commercials, product placement has become increasingly popular. Tourism and hospitality marketers have been quick to take advantage of this growing trend. British Airways was one of the first companies to be endorsed by James Bond in his movies, and Virgin paid a large amount for a promotional tie-in with the 1999 film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Destinations, too, have begun to see product placement as an opportunity to gain exposure. Many are keen to persuade producers to make films, television series or commercials in their country or region.

Branded entertainment on the other hand is a relatively new term to describe a more contemporary, sophisticated use of product placement, and can been defined as the integration of advertising into entertainment content, whereby brands are embedded into story-lines of a film, television program, or other entertainment medium. The term has been widely used by the advertising industry for some time, and usually involves co-creation and collaboration between entertainment, media and brands. Examples of brands creating entertainment are Coca-Cola, BMW, and Ford, who have all adopted the role of program producer.

According to a recent survey by the Custom Content Council, branded entertainment is a $44 billion business, with the pace of change and innovation accelerating. It has been suggested that the rise of branded entertainment within contemporary media culture marks a fundamental shift from intrusive advertising pushed at uninterested audiences, to advertising of such merit that the audience actively seeks it out.

Rather than focusing on a sales-driven message, key to the short-term economic metrics of conventional advertising, branded entertainment has the ability to build long-term relationships with consumers, deepening brand loyalty among targeted groups. Successful branded entertainment does not mean infusing important product messages with appealing images. It is more about connecting and developing an emotional appeal.

There has been a fair amount written about product placement, but there are subtle differences between product placement and branded entertainment. These differences can be illustrated by way of a continuum that expresses the level of brand integration with the storyline or plot (see Figure 1). At one end of the continuum with no brand integration, there is passive product placement, such as the prominent depiction of the Coca Cola name in the program American Idol. Such placements are less effective than other types of placement. At the other end of the continuum, the product is integrated into the storyline for the program or film, a strategy that can be much more effective.

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Coming up in February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.