Lights, cameras, brands. Imagine your product woven seamlessly into the storyline of your favorite television show or movie. What would that look like? Can you picture the audience’s reaction after the piece is released? That was genius, they might say. Okay, time to step back to the present moment. Branded entertainment is a tricky practice, but if done right can bring your brand to new audiences and increase its public awareness. 

But what’s the difference between branded entertainment, branded content, and product placement? What are the benefits? We’ve compiled the tips, tricks, and information you need to get your brand on the silver screen and beyond. 


What is branded entertainment?

Branded entertainment goes back as early as the 1930s with Procter & Gamble. The brand, known for its detergents, sponsored and produced the first radio serial dramas that “became known as ‘soap operas.’” When televisions started showing up in American homes, P&G continued to sponsor soap operas until the early 2000s. 

Branded entertainment is, at its most basic, the “insertion of a brand within an entertainment property in such a way that the line between entertainment and advertising becomes blurred.” The term can be used interchangeably with branded content, as well. This type of branding goes beyond traditional advertising and can include “articles, videos, podcasts, and even live elements that bring relevant value to the consumer.” 

According to an AdWeek piece, branded entertainment is more “necessary and effective” today than ever. In fact, it “outperforms every other medium for brand marketers.” This effectiveness is in part due to the rise of social media and mobile entertainment. Brands are now literally in the hands of their audience and accessible at any time. Done well, branded entertainment amplifies the brand promise, creates product demand, and engages its audience. 


The difference between product placement and branded entertainment 

If you are still unsure about what exactly branded entertainment is, it may sound a lot like product placement. The main differentiators between the two are that product placement features a branded item whereas, in branded entertainment, the product is the feature. 

Branded content seamlessly weaves the product into the storyline so that audiences feel that it is an authentic part of the entertainment. Perhaps the best way to summarize the difference is that that branded content “is providing entertainment, not interrupting it.” 

That said, it’s no wonder that branded entertainment lands better among younger generations who generally hate or distrust traditional advertising. However, a study from Defy found that 58% of younger viewers “don’t mind watching ads to support their favorite digital personalities.” Plus, 87% approve of product placement. These combined could help explain why branded content is an effective marketing tool. 


Branded entertainment examples 

Brands that experiment and test the boundaries of their marketing scope stay in the minds of consumers. Despite its earlier iterations in T.V. and movies, branded entertainment applies to several different categories: sponsored articles, music videos, and short films, to name a few. Here are some of the more memorable pieces: 


The Lego Movie 

Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of branded content is The Lego Movie. The entire movie was focused on one brand, brought to life with clever animation and innuendo. From a marketing standpoint, the intersection between parents who were once Lego users and children who might be or could be was brilliant. The movie’s benefits were twofold for the brand. It earned “over $469 million, all the while promoting Lego to a new global generation of kids.” 


Netflix & Orange Is the New Black 

Netflix’s popular drama with a cult following took their branded content a step further with a New York Times sponsored article. The article, “Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work,” helped to match “the right marketing message with engaging and informing content.” Despite the show sponsoring the article, it was not an advertisement for it. It was merely a vehicle by which to communicate a pressing message with a broader audience. 



The vehicles Nascar drivers use are essentially moving billboards. Brands who partner with Nascar are part of the entertainment during every race. Beyond this, Nascar opened an L.A. office in 2007 so they could further embed themselves with entertainment. Another example of their branded content includes their part in the film “Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby.” They also coined the T.V. series “Young Guns” where Nascar drivers taught celebrities the art of high speeds. 


Cast Away 

Although FedEx famously received publicity from the 2000 hit “Cast Away” for free, it is still a great example of branded entertainment. The company did, however, have a say in the film and according to Gail Christensen, in global brand management at FedEx, they chose to participate because “‘It’s not product placement, we’re a character in the movie.’” Rather than Tom Hanks’ character simply using FedEx products, the company was an integral part of the film going beyond product placement. 



Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” content piece featured an FBI sketch artist who compared sketches based on women’s descriptions of themselves and sketches based on strangers’ descriptions of them. The resulting video had close to 180 million views and became the most-watched branded content in 2013. This example showed how branded content could be visual, inspiring, and also further a brand’s core messaging. 


The benefits of branded entertainment 

With recent examples of branded entertainment like The Lego Movie, it’s evident that brands are attempting to compete in the changing entertainment landscape. An AdWeek article from 2016 posited that brands can no longer simply make content; they need to be entertainment. 

So, although branded content is used frequently in place of brand entertainment, it is perhaps becoming a misnomer. With crossovers between almost every industry, the possibilities are endless for brands. 

Perhaps the most notable benefits are: 


Reinforcing your story 

An authentic piece of branded entertainment will help your story feel “more honed and focused on your core values, message, and mission.” Let’s say you own an ice cream shop with national outlets. From the beginning, you have focused on the memories and connections ice cream makes. When you hear Netflix is launching a new reunion series where participants meet in a neutral location, you jump at the chance. What is a sweeter place to reunite than an ice cream shop? And what says more about connections? 


Reaching your audience 

You may have an established audience and already know the channels they frequent. But what if you could reach your audience and then some? As in The Lego Movie example, which appealed to adults and their children, branded entertainment could expand your reach. One way to do this is to have a “symbiotic relationship” with micro-celebrities and influencers. Going back to the ice cream shop example, if you land the Netflix gig, you might then turn to a micro-influencer who blogs about lifestyle and food-related content, or to someone who was featured on the show to share how your shop helped them connect. 


Creating trust  

For brands, establishing and growing trust should be a top priority. If you focus on “showing your customers that you’re willing to put them first, instead of focusing exclusively on your profits,” you are creating trust one piece of content at a time. Much of this benefit has to do with the type of branded content you choose. For instance, the ice cream shop should probably not choose to be part of a horror movie or a heavy-metal band sing-off. The inauthenticity would certainly be noticeable. Users seek out brands that are consistent, but that can also excite them. 


Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for your brand to pursue branded entertainment is the fact that consumers are carrying around dynamic sources of entertainment in their pocket, i.e., their smartphones. The access is immediate, and the opportunities are countless. Statistics don’t lie, either. Research shows that brand recall is 59% higher, and consumers are 14% more likely to pursue other brand content. As brands become creators more, “the effect of all this is that brands are able to develop an enduring direct-to-consumer relationship.” 


Tips for branded entertainment: the how  

Now for the all-important how. If your brand is attempting to break into entertainment, there are some rules of thumb to follow.


Use emotions

Visceral, real content that makes users feel something should be the goal here. Not every piece of branded content needs to make users cry, of course. But it should elicit a palpable emotion––joy, melancholy, surprise, anticipation, love, etc. After all, “the whole point of brand content is that it’s designed to connect with an audience on a deeper level.” 


Entertain consumers

It seems like it should go without saying, but a large part of branded entertainment is to, well, entertain. Your consumers have options. Lots of options. So your branded content choices need to be interesting, authentic, and captivating. In the digital age, attention “needs to be earned.” 


Be visual 

It’s a classic scenario of show, don’t tell. Branded entertainment is, by nature, visual so use that to your advantage with imagery, videography, animation, etc. Whether done in-house or outsourced, the goal here is to create something memorable and meaningful. 


Do good

A Brookings report revealed that almost 90% of millennials “want to support brands that do good.” ‘Doing good’ means a brand is associated with a particular cause or charity and has a purpose beyond profits. A relevant content outlet here could be a documentary or scripted collaboration in support of your brand’s cause. 

Other considerations when pursuing branded content are setting brand goals, doing your research on partners and affiliates, and developing a distribution plan.  


Time to create 

Branded entertainment has evolved from 1930s P&G soap operas. It is now the new attainable goal for marketers as it has to ability to engage, inform, and capture audiences. Branded entertainment “reaches your fans right where they are” and allows you to be creative and a genuine part of the entertainment piece. As technology and branded content applications evolve further, so can your brand. What are you waiting for?