Reebok is among companies experimenting with producing their own programming for TV and the web as traditional commercials becoming less effective.
A 30-second TV commercial isn’t the perfect venue to give viewers an in-depth look at a product or the celebrities who endorse it. And a 30-minute infomercial sends viewers reaching for the remote control.
Now marketers are experimenting with a third way to catch the attention of jaded consumers. With many TV viewers armed with digital video recorders and inclined to fast-forward past commercials, the ad industry has turned its attention to so-called “branded entertainment” - full-length TV programs and “webisodes” produced by a company to generate a positive association with its brand.
Canton-based Reebok International made its first major foray into branded entertainment in November when it launched “Framed,” a new series shown on the Independent Film Channel.
Reebok has endorsement deals with well-known stars such as NBA All-Star Allen Iverson, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz and Indianpolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. But the athletic goods company needed a new way to showcase its association with them, said Todd Krinsky, Reebok’s head of sports and entertainment marketing.
“We really didn’t feel consumers knew which athletes we had, who wore Reebok, and why they wore Reebok,” Krinsky said.
Reebok settled on a 30-minute TV show format, but wanted to avoid the traditional narrative style of programs such as “Beyond the Glory,” Fox Sports Net’s acclaimed documentary series about star athletes.
So Reebok marketers came up with a twist: They would ask athletes if they had a friend or someone they’d always wanted to meet to serve as their interviewer.
To give the shows a focus, the interviewer was expected to “direct” a short film featuring the athlete. Each shoot took two full days.
Perhaps the most creative approach was taken by Spanish actress Paz Vega, who met up with French soccer star Thierry Henry in Spain shortly after he was traded to FCBarcelona.
Vega rounded up a group of passers-by and organized an impromptu news conference, encouraging them to fire away at Henry with questions.
The shows have a celebrities-behind-the-scenes feel, designed to catch the stars in unguarded moments. Riding in a private bus to a fishing trip, Iverson and his rapper pal Nelly shot the breeze about O.J. Simpson’s latest criminal scrape.
“How are they going to convict him on this one?” Nelly said. “You can’t convict him of murder. How are they going to convict him on this one?”
“They going to get him on this one,” Iverson chimed in. “They got a mug shot where he’s smiling. What the hell is funny?”
In some of the other episodes, Golden State Warriors guard Baron Davis showed off his rollerskating skills to Canadian actress Emmanuelle Chriqui. And actress Brittany Snow had a heart-to-heart with tennis star Jelena Jankovic about her emigration from Russia to the U.S.
Skeptics might dismiss branded entertainment as a glorified infomercial. But marketers say viewers are quick to sniff out blatant pitches and will tune out if the show fails to entertain.
“There’s no question they wear Reebok (merchandise) in the show, but if you watch it, I think it’s done tastefully and in an organic manner,” Krinsky said. “It’s not about trying to cram Reebok down peoples’ throats.”
“Framed” is an outgrowth of Reebok Entertainment, a new division of the company that was formed in late 2006 to generate such projects. About 20 employees have worked on various projects on a case-by-case basis since then.
One of its better-known efforts came together last fall when the Red Sox won the World Series in October. Reebok produced a TV commercial designed to show off the dominance of Boston sports teams and Reebok’s endorsement deals with many star players.
Narrated by actor Donnie Wahlberg and shot at the Cask ‘n Flagon pub near Fenway Park, the spot featured a rapid-fire succession of Reebok athletes, ending with the tagline, “This is Reebok Nation. This is Boston.”
Branded entertainment is poised for double-digit growth through 2012, according to a report issued this month by PQ Media of Stamford, Conn.
Branded entertainment spending in the U.S. rose nearly 15 percent to $22.3 billion in 2007, according to the study. Branded media spending now comprises about 8 percent of all advertising and marketing spending, according to the firm.
“TV is still a good medium to reach a large audience, but when you’re trying to reach a niche audience, that’s where you find the most cost-efficient way of spending your dollars,” said Leo Kivijarv, vice president of research at PQ Media.
Branded entertainment is one of marketers’ best chances to reach trend-savvy consumers who influence others’ buying and viewing habits, Kivijarv said.
Other types of branded entertainment include event sponsorships and paid product placements in movies and TV shows.
For now, the jury is out on the effectiveness of branded entertainment. One of the early pioneers of the genre, BMW, enlisted directors such as Ang Lee to produce a seriesof short films for the Web. But the car maker dropped its branded entertainment strategy in 2005.
“It all depends how well the strategy is executed,” Virijarv said. “There are different viewing habits with the youth market, and that’s why they’re shifting their dollars out of traditional media.”
Steve Adams may be reached at email@example.com.