From Product Placement to Branded Entertainment

Hotels Finding New Ways to Cut Through the Clutter

By Simon Hudson Endowed Chair in Tourism & 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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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.