Branded content: A tough trade for the TV execs
My MBA thesis was about product placement. It was all of 10 years ago, when the term was unfamiliar to most. One of my conclusions, I recall, was that the scarcity of suitable home-produced programming would curb its emergence as a force in Ireland.
Recently I watched The Toughest Trade, the first, or most high-profile, example of “branded content” to hit our screens. So here’s the distinction. Product placement is about paying to include your brand in an existing programme. Branded content has the same aim, but here you produce and pay for the entire programme yourself. The brand is taking control.
On paper it looks a terrible idea. On screen it looked good. The subject matter was ideal – the boy-next-door heroes of the GAA mixing it with the monied stars of world sport, and AIB to thank for giving them and the sport an outing the like of which they’d never dream of.
Brand intrusion? Beyond a few conspicuous hoardings at Breaffy Park, there was a surprising absence of photo-bombing by out-of-focus AIB logos. Ultimately, the broadcaster still decides whether it’s a legitimate programme, as opposed to a commercial. The credits reveal that RTE and TV3 had executive producers on hand just to keep anyone from veering offside.
So why didn’t RTE just make it? Life’s not like that anymore, and increasingly it will be courageous (and deep-pocketed) brands as opposed to wary (and cash-strapped) producers who we’ll be relying on for this type of innovative content. And that does mean handing over control, from broadcaster to brand, to some extent anyway. It’s a tough trade, but this was a fair start.