September 14, 2007
Gamekillers and Branded Entertainment

Yesterday, I was walking into the lobby of Five Cambridge Center, where the Convergence Culture Consortium offices are located, when a newspaper on the front desk caught my eye. Now, the subscription to this Wall Street Journal was for one of my neighbors on another floor of the center, so I could only glance at the headline, but it involved two things of interest to me: our partner, MTV, and deodorant.

Of course, I guess deodorant is of the interest of many of the C3 readers, but I am particularly interested because of my fascination with the history of product placement, and particularly with the history of soaps and everyday items as product placement. Considering my interest in soap operas, I often emphasize the fact that this was a whole genre (or format, depending on your perspective) which was set up under the notion of product integration or branded entertainment, two phrases that have become quite the buzzwords for the industry.

Problem was, I don't have a subscription to the Journal. Dr. William Uricchio, principal investigator for the Convergence Culture Consortium and director of the Program in Comparative Media Studies, sent me a picture of the headline of the article, and a one-line synopsis that emphasized why it was worth reading, but I still had no luck.

Well, a special thanks to the folks over at Commercial Alert, because they not only are "protecting communities from commercialism," but they are also publicly providing gated content for me.

To the article: in short, MTV is launching several new episodes of The Gamekillers, a series sponsored by AXE. The piece details the lengths to which AXE and MTV battled over creating branded content, with MTV worried about the heavy hand of product integration turning off its viewers, while AXE was concerned with seeing some return on their investment. Add AXE's public relations crew into the mix--Edelman--and you have a full-scale project launching.

One only has to guess Commercial Alert's take, and I would be the last to say that branded entertainment is de facto a good thing. I think it can be, as long as it doesn't compromise the artistic integrity of the program or else get in the way of the viewer's experience, and I think it's important that the tie to the advertiser involved is in some way recognized, as long as it isn't in an intrusive manner.

Suzanne Vranica's piece is worth reading, both since it acknowledges some of the historical precursors to these questions and because it details the back-and-forth needed to construct these deals. But, considering the stylization of the show in question and the way AXE's role has so far been acknowledged but closely guarded against, I don't find this of the offensive sort of branded entertainment, and I applaud MTV for their continued experimentation with ad revenue models on their station. I haven't chatted with anyone at MTVN about the show, but I'd be interested in the fan take if any regular viewers of The Gamekillers come along.

See my previous writing on these issues here, here, and here.