picture-3Brand integration in web series?  Wait, I thought that was dead.  Didn’t every brand get a good clock cleaning earlier this decade by investing in this very same format?  Certainly.  However, as we have said for some time now, that too has passed. The opportunity for organic and effective branding in web series is here, we’ve learned a ton and there is a new sheriff in town when it comes to making brand and entertainment deliver on the promise.

In today’s Brandweek.com, T. L. Stanley, confirms our suspicions, and notes that brands are dipping a bit more than a toe into these waters and reaping the rewards.  Stanley outlines the key elements that make brand integration a genuine tool as opposed to the hail Mary of yesteryear.

This time around, content and brands are on more equal footing.  It’s no longer the juvenile business built around the “wow, I can put stuff into stuff on line and….”  These days, brands are (1) looking to get involved during the nascent stages of content development; (2) willing to accept less overt, less “salesy” integration; and (3) partnering with content producers who are willing to find ways to use integration organically with story and format.

Those three key elements make me hopeful for a true creative partnership between companies like mine and brands across virtually every vertical.  We would add a few more arguments to the mix as well as some wishes and warnings to keep this momentum going toward an effective brand / entertainment marriage.

When you look at the cost basis for digital branded entertainment, you can’t beat the potential ROI in terms awareness and even conversion.  But that is just the tip of the “why integrate” pyramid.  The opportunities and results also depend upon how well we can collectively  exploit the public’s increasing willingness to accept branding in content.  They have a specific set of demands that we need to deliver upon in everything we produce and distribute:

(1) make it engaging, entertaining, informative and great or shut up;

(2) make it authentic and honest (as opposed to a sore thumb interrupting my content);

(3) make it an invitation to connect with versus “buy” your brand; and

(4) earn my attention by delivering something of personal value (entertaining and something I care about).

If we develop and produce content that fits this bill, there will be no need to have another branded content nuclear winter.  Instead, our business with the brands will grow, develop, evolve and prosper.  The seedlings are all here, right now.  Creatives have a better understanding of how to pick and choose content that is customized for a given brand.  Brands are rightfully demanding to be involved early on.  Creatives’ fear that brands will “ruin” the content is not proving to be rational.  It behooves the brands to have their say while letting the producers produce (ahh, if only televison were like that).  All of this means that our ability to work with brands on more than just the on-the-nose, fact-based product content is here and, hopefully, here to stay.

Consumers are more willing to embrace longer form web series covering every genre.  New narrative series, including our —here comes the shamless plug—–“Operation Midnight Climax”, a dramatic series about a true-life black ops, mind control CIA experiment, are getting a lot of attention.  “In the Motherhood” and “Haute and Bothered”, for example, have been seen millions of times.  Perhaps we aren’t far away from brands thinking of shows like this, as a go-to branding device as opposed to an experiment?

What happens next depends upon both sides of the equation.  Brands need to step up, spend on digital content, stop retreating to the more traditional media, and deliver quality content to the consumer “on their terms”.  We producers need to do our part to make sure brands and consumers have a positive experience so that we don’t have to wait another 6 or 7 years to have at it again. If we all stick to the rules of engagement outlined above, I think we might just turn this into a business.