With Younger Audiences Going Ad-Free, Brand Integration Is More Important Than Ever

Meilani Weiss, R&CPMK’s EVP of Brand Integrations, shares the importance of strategic placement in her new op-ed piece for Media Post.

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Media consumption of the modern viewer looks very different than it did just a few short years ago. The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the preferences of both millennial and Gen Z cohorts, have accelerated a fundamental shift to digital streaming. Most young adults under 29 have never subscribed to a traditional cable package, and they likely never will.

What’s more, many of the new digital TV platforms are completely ad-free, and nearly half of the total streaming market is ad-free, according to Nielsen’s new Gauge streaming study. Among consumers aged 18-29, 6-in-10 consume the majority of their TV content via Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Prime Video, and other streaming platforms. These stats reveal a sobering reality for advertisers, that up to 40% of total TV consumption for the 18-29 demographic is completely ad-free. This necessitates new ways for brands to reach consumers outside of traditional advertising.

Brand integration, defined as the strategic placement or alignment of brands within entertainment, has emerged as one of the most useful tools for marketers to reach audiences today. Over half of brands planned to increase their spend on creator or brand integrations in the last year.

Brands looking to enter the space need a strategy to take full advantage of the plethora of opportunities available through brand integration. While one-off integrations can deliver massive reach and engagement, a holistic ongoing integration strategy, as part of a brand’s larger marketing mix, yields lasting entertainment relationships, more opportunities, and outsized results. Brand integration is further customized by the several tactical methods brands and agencies alike can use to execute an effective brand integration campaign.

The flow chart below outlines the varying tactics a brand can take to execute an integration strategy. Outlining Tactics Brands Can Use to Integrate into Content:

Media Buy Added Value: Leveraging an existing media spend to negotiate integrations in existing content. This is a method that major networks often employ to integrate brands into their premier programming. An integration campaign can be built against an existing media spend in this way, and the integration and advertising can work to amplify each other.

Propping Strategy: This requires on-the-ground relationships with the productions themselves. Prop masters, set designers, transportation coordinators, location managers, costume designers, and other production staff physically integrate your product or service into content. This tactic is prohibitive via one-off campaigns, as it requires ongoing relationship-building with the entertainment community, but it is an effective and low-cost way to integrate brands into content. 

Above-the-Line: Relationships with producers or showrunners allow brands to provide production dollars in exchange for integrations in the associated entertainment property. This is a direct value exchange as it allows a production budget to expand in order to feature the brand supporting the production.

Barter Partnerships: Ideal for technical or service brands that can bring resources to content production. This strategy offers high-value services or products opportunities for reduced or no-fee integration which support the production. Complicated sets like the Wall of America on Jimmy Kimmel Live! are brought to life from technical experts from leading technology company, Cisco.

A holistic strategy, employing various tactics above can provide brands big wins and cultural relevancy. 

With the release of new video and collaboration tools, Cisco vetted each opportunity to match technological relevance with the narrative from each entertainment property. In television, the brand participated in technology-heavy shows like “Casualty,” “Line of Duty,” and “Behind Her Eyes.” The brand also supported production companies such as Reese Witherspoon’s “Hello Sunshine” when the world went remote, helping them transition to a remote workspace. Each integration features Cisco’s logo on the technology or on viewers’ screen to reinforce the awareness of the brand and product.

Heineken too has employed many of these tactics to become Hollywood’s favorite beer.  The brand saw integrations as a critical component to meet ad-free audiences where they were. The strategy included both proactive propping and paid, above-the-line deals to secure integrations across streaming, TV, digital content, and feature films. Main characters like Bobby Axelrod, from Showtime’s hit show “Billions,” reach for a Heineken during pivotal moments in an episode, thus building further brand awareness, equity, and association. The campaign pays off, generating multi-million dollars of media value against hard-to-reach audiences who tend to avoid advertising.

Brand integration has become an essential component of every modern brand’s marketing mix.  The brands that build holistic campaigns, utilizing every available brand integration strategy, reap the most benefits. Whether the goal is to raise awareness, build consideration, or launch new products, the deft use of brand integration allows marketers to tap pop-culture moments to build brand relevance.