The panel Branded Enertainment For Producers opened with this warning: “If you don’t have a good business model, you’d better have a branded entertainment model.” Producers claimed they are linking Madison Avenue to Hollywood — but at the same time trying to connect brands to moviegoers and TV audiences without sacrificing the creative intent of the projects. The panelists stressed how product integration these days is part of just about every deal using techniques way beyond just showing a soda can on screen. (The Purina Dog Chow used in Marley & Me was cited as an example.) But there’s also the problem of going too far.

There is constant vigilance by reps for high-profile talent to limit their exposure. For instance, panel moderator Michael Kassan, Founder and CEO of Media Link, noted that these days talent won’t get into a car where the logo is exposed unless they’re getting money, too. Or the classic case cited by entertainment lawyer Ken Hertz: Coke making a deal with the movie Roxanne, and, afterwards Darryl Hannah was seen in a Coke spot, but was unpaid. “So someone had to write a very big check.” Now talent reps clear this up front at the contract stage. “Whether or not money has changed hands, talent won’t touch a brand unless a deals worked out,” advised Hertz. (“Will Smith won’t get in a Cadillac or put on glasses without a deal,” Kasson offered as a hypothetical example.)

Then there’s the matter of agencies, managers, and lawyers all consulting for individual brands. And, among producers, more and more are trying to establish stories around brands. Agents are pitching ideas, which start at the brand level. The panel agreed that the need for brands to be integrated into TV shows is only going to increase now that commercials are not as effective as they once were. The movie and TV biz are very different in “finesse and nuance” as it relates to brands. There’s a “supplemental sheen” from having a watch on James Bond’s arm. But people essentially watch TV for free because of the ad support of brands like Coke. Brands also have begun participating on the back end. But they’re risk averse to launching an indie film so there’s no production money for indie prods. On the other hand, Ken Hertz joked “there’s not a lot product placement on The Tudors“.

An example of when it’s done right, panelist Brian Terkelsen, EVP & Managing Director of Connective Tissue MediaVest, cited America’s Next Top Model and Cover Girl as one “relationship that doesn’t offendviewers. Because there’s a 45-second spot telling viewers what past winners are doing. It’s viewed as content.” And now Wal-Mart is selling Top Model product.

The producers also complained about the metrics. In TV, success is usually defined by ratings and re-orders. For brands, it’s awareness and that’s harder to measure. So the brands do research to see if a show is successful at getting the message across, including recall and likeability scores. However, Terkelsen rued: “You can’t make a brand manager happy. It can’t be blatant enough.” — posted by a DHD stringer.