Every business has the same problem: selling to people.

Sean M Everett
Aug 17, 2017 · 6 min read

I. Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time in a land far, far away a bunch of smart people got together. The creatives met with the business people. They said, “storytelling is hard” while the business people replied, “selling is hard”. To which they both realized their “S” words, while different, still rhymed.

They ruminated and pondered and wondered and wandered. And after many fortnights of head scratching and rumplestiltskin, an exclaim came from a dark corner.

“I’ve got it”, she said.

We’re going to put your products into our stories.

And so it was. The land was again at peace and everyone rode into the sunset happily ever after.

II. The Reality

“Life isn’t that easy, nor that fun.”, you’re likely muttering to yourself. But what if it could be?

Selling is hard. No two ways around that. Especially at the scale of the internet. There’s even more noise than the all-the-way-up volume in commercials between sitcoms. It seems the only time you can get a little peace from the onslaught of advertising is in the movie theater.

But wait a minute, did you know that some movies are, in fact, a giant ad? A few examples:

  • The Lego Movie: an ad that skyrocketed sales, both at store shelves and the box office
  • The Internship (our analysis): Google to help show the world that the people building tech aren’t all “nerdy curmudgeons”, per Larry Page.
  • Back to the Future: Pepsi everywhere, a DMC-built DeLorean, futuristic self-lacing Nike boots (they’re still banking on).
  • ET: can you believe ET was a drinker of Coors Light?
  • Michelin Star: a tire company reviews restaurants to get people to drive across the country, traveling more, so they need new tires more often.
  • Soap Operas: Even back in the 50’s nobody wanted to watch a 30 minute soap commercial. So brands created their own programming to fill the broadcasting voids in exchange for exclusive sponsorship of the content.
  • My Little Pony & Transformers: Hasbro has created their own animation studio for My Little Pony and continues to push the branded content strategy to sell their toys:
Fast Company Print Issue: September 2017

The one thing people often don’t realize is that the movie doesn’t get made without the product placement revenue. It’s a win-win-win:

  1. The consumer gets a great movie.
  2. The advertiser gets marketing that produces for 20 years (or more).
  3. The studio can afford to make the movie because it has a higher budget.

Can you imagine your everyday life without Back to the Future? We don’t want to either.

It’s also important to note terminology here. What people call Content Marketing, Branded Content, or Branded Entertainment are all basically the same thing. You’re using some type of engaging story, video, website, app, gif or image so someone buys your product or service.

One way to look at it: it’s simply a better ad.

II. Nielsen’s Stats Prove Branded Content Wins

Here’s a few charts to give you a feel for the impact it has on people:

Short answer? Branded content does better than an ad because people tune out the moment an ad is shown. But the moment a story is being told, people tune in.

There’s your sign.

III. History of Branded Content

Our friends over at Content Marketing World have created a wonderful infographic showing the history of branded content going all the way back to 1732. That’s before America even existed. Great Scott (yes, Back to the Future was awash with product placement to the point the entire movie was nearly an ad)!

IV. Roadmap to Your Own Branded Entertainment

We’ve previously written a story on the future of branded entertainment. The basic gist is this: It doesn’t look like a commercial or an ad. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a story. We predict that in the future, an Oscar will be awarded to a piece of intense storytelling.

It’s like a docu-drama-product-story masterpiece mashup.

Remember Rule #1 when it comes to a brand. It’s how it makes you feel. A brand has nothing to do with a product. That comes later. The feeling is most important.

Nike. Just do it. When Jordan came out with his branded shoes, kids bought them because they wanted to “be like Mike”. Because it made them feel like a superhero. It made them feel like they could jump higher, run faster, and dunk harder.

Disney is one of the best to have ever done it. Their brand makes you feel safe. Like a kid again. Their theme parks are an escape from the harsh realities of the real world.

This feeling is what branded content and entertainment is all about. The reason superhero movies have blown up so much is 1) it makes you feel like a superhero for a moment and 2) it’s entertaining with a 3) good story.

You need all 3 aspects. Notice that there’s nothing in there about products or advertising specifically.

  1. First, understand how you want people to feel and make sure there’s alignment between that feeling and your organization’s brand. If there’s not, you’ve got some hard choices ahead of you.
  2. Next, develop a story around that feeling. It needs humanity in the story. Love. Death. Time. These three mechanics drive every emotion and action of the human animal. And then make sure the story has tension. It’s not a character study, which can be the most boring thing on the planet. It’s not, “this happened and this happened and she felt this way”. It’s “the bomb is ticking, 10, 9, 8… and Mary has moments to decide between the green and white wire, but she’s blind. She has to use the Force”. See the difference?
  3. Finally, insert your product or service or brand name into the story, where it makes sense to push it along or as a tool the characters must use to defeat the antagonist.

Be very careful about the difference between sponsorship and branded entertainment. The former is still an ad, while the latter is a story.

If you can do the 3 items listed above, you’re going to have a successful branded entertainment media property on your hands. The secondary effect of which is going to sell your core product or service. And both will feed back on each other.

Marty McFly drinks Pepsi in the past, present, and future. If you want to feel like you’re a time traveler too, drink Pepsi. Or, you laughed hysterically at Will Ferrel’s character in The Lego Movie, which made you go to Toys R Us and reconnect with Legos of old by buying a boxed set.

And on and on the wheel turns.

So these are the days of our lives.

Sean Everett

Did you know that The Mission has a creative studio? We have created Hollywood-quality stories for brands that we use, love and trust. Interested?

Connect with The Mission’s Creative Studio team.

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The Mission publishes stories, videos, and podcasts that make smart people smarter. You can subscribe to get them here.


A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org

Sean M Everett

Written by

We invented stories, animated emojis, choose-your-own-adventure movies, personalized linear channels, and biological intelligence http://everettadvisors.com


A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org

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