Post-Covid, Why Brands Should Become Executive Producers

Successfully navigating the post-pandemic media and content landscape is going to require brands to rethink how they spend their marketing dollars and how networks entice brands for those spends. The answer: Invest together, co-create and share the benefits.

The network ecosystem has traditionally kept the worlds of "commercials" and "shows" separate, product placement notwithstanding. However, we believe this new environment will bring about the birth of a new, symbiotic relationship between network and advertiser and change the Hollywood behavior of going to brands in a purely pay-to-play capacity.

A Content-and-Media New Deal

Pressured by the streaming giants, networks have been trying to adapt to a less ad-heavy model for years. But in this context of financial pressure, is that really sustainable? Networks will be facing both a shortage in programming—due to production halts—and media-rate inflation around the most popular shows, which are more in-demand than ever. The situation is similar for brands: Having lost valuable time and resources, they will need to get more value from their marketing and media dollars.

So, in a world where networks need more shows, brands need more exposure, both sides are short on funds, and audiences will still skip ads—what's the solution?

The obvious answer is to create more brand partnerships: Instead of the normal media real-estate/buyer relationship, let's develop shows that align with brand values, entertain consumers and are co-owned. Meaning everyone shares in financial and distribution success, including brands. In short, brands join the fold and become executive producers. Networks get to keep their platforms more "ad-free"; brands get a far deeper level of exposure than a 30-second spot could ever offer; and the audience gets a show they love, featuring a brand that's integral to the story in a non-"branded content" way. 

For example, Amazon's original show, Making the Cut, is a content ecosystem that functions like a utility for brands and marketers. Amazon has created a Making the Cut online store, allowing viewers to shop the looks created by the show's competing designers. With this show, Amazon has been able to deliver the programming consumers want, while seamlessly highlighting a major part of the Amazon business: Amazon Fashion (a brand within a brand). It's providing utility to the consumer, while also surprising and delighting them in an uplifting way. 

There is a way to do this for brands that don't have a global-distribution content platform, and that is why the time for partnership with networks is now. Harmonizing an audience's emotional needs with brand ethos and product needs should be coordinated on all sides: Think shows like Extreme Makeover and Undercover Boss. Brands should be developing these types of ideas alongside Hollywood creators and use their media buys and marketing spends to deficit fund the shows they pitch to networks.

Advice for Brands on the Way Forward

The current upheaval offers an opportunity to evolve past the traditional "brought to you by" product-placement model. It's time for broad acceptance of Lego Masters and Making the Cut.

This is what brands should be doing now to prepare for this altered media environment:

• Build relationships with showrunners, talent and entertainment production companies that attract networks.

• Develop content that supports brand love and brand utility. You can do both. 

• Create programming that networks will want to commission and audiences will want to spend time with. This is not branded content. 

• Pitch co-created shows to networks using your media spend as deficit financing and leverage.

• Because you're developing and financing a TV concept, demand a seat at the table and require marketing assets for your brand to be created within production of the show, creating a seamless campaign and comms plan using story and synergizing finances.

• Trust that your agencies can play an important brand-guardian role when working with Hollywood talent, networks and streamers.  

The Bottom Line

If networks can look at restructuring the antiquated pilot production model, brands can innovate how and why they spend with their distribution counterparts. When working with TV networks or advertising agencies, brands must look to build strong partnerships, develop strategic content ecosystems and, most important, create content that's attractive to distributors and delights audiences.

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William Swann
William Swann is head of entertainment at BBH L.A.

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