Advertising sales remain the primary way to make money for operators of ad-supported streaming services and channels, both on demand (AVOD) and linear (FAST).
But at Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, which through a series of strategic acquisitions has become something of an AVOD/FAST aggregator, more and more emphasis is being placed on branding opportunities with the actual show.
“Branded entertainment,” they call it.
“We are putting full force behind original content and getting that funded from another source versus strictly from within,” said Michele Fino, head of Branded Entertainment for Crackle Connex, Chicken Soup’s advertising sales division.
The basic concept is that rather than run straight commercials, brands can either own a series or segment of a series or create their own custom content, with messaging woven into the storyline.
Think of it as a modern take on the old practice of product placements in movies and TV shows.
In recent months, the Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment family of AVOD and FAST channels has launched more than half a dozen original series that present branding opportunities to sponsors, including:
- “At Home with Genevieve,” an original lifestyle series hosted by celebrity interior designer Genevieve Gorder and aimed at helping viewers be their best at home, including cooking, cleaning, entertaining, and taking care of their family, plants and pets;
- “Just for Kicks,” a new original series about the hottest new sneaker drops and the collectors who chase them;
- A new season of the hit Crackle original “Going From Broke,” from executive producer Ashton Kutcher;
- The second season of the series “Inside the Black Box,” about black entertainers, which is produced in partnership with Publicis Media’s APX Content Ventures and sponsored by The General Insurance Co.;
- “Pet Caves” with PetSmart, which Fino says provides “seamless brand integrations that do not overwhelm viewers”; and
- “Wedding Talk,” a diverse show hosted by Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski and sponsored by Snuggle, Men’s Wearhouse and James Allen.
In each case, Fino says, the sponsors get more than the customary commercials. In “Inside the Black Box,” for example, The General Insurance gets on-set signage and mentions of its name through phrases such as “The General admission” and “The General audience,” thereby associating the Black students with their access to established Black talent.
“Let’s be clear — the show is not about cars, and definitely not about car insurance,” Fino says. “But there is a way around that to incorporate the brand identity and nomenclature into the show.”
Fino says funding is one of the key ingredients “that go into a successful show,” and what Crackle Connex is trying to do is “play a good game of matching. We creatively introduce the brand’s objectives into our television shows and air that with complementary media and sponsorship elements on Crackle and Redbox in order to meet or even exceed the advertisers key performance indicators (KPIs). Our goal is one plus one equals three.”
In “Going for Broke,” for example, branding opportunities further the series’ goal of helping people get out of debt. To cite one example, Lyft sponsored an episode in which one solution to help consumers lighten their debt load was to take on a side hustle as a Lyft driver. In another episode, sponsored by the Family Dollar retail chain, viewers were shown how they can save money by shopping at deep discount stores, and save even more by joining the Family Dollar loyalty program and downloading the company’s app.
“And it was fun — we made it a shopping challenge with the engaged couple in the store with a countdown clock and everything,” Fino said. “And who doesn’t like to beat their partner at a game?”
Similarly, Fino maintains, “Men’s Wearhouse was a perfect fit for ‘Wedding Talk.’ Two incredibly creative, adventurous guys got married during COVID and they poured that spirit into every detail of their wedding, especially their custom suits. Even though they couldn’t be surrounded by hundreds of family and friends, Men’s Wearhouse made that experience personalized, beautiful and memorable for them.”
Fino said she’s “super excited about the in-show possibilities in our new original, ‘Just For Kicks’: Everything from a branded green room where the celebrities hang out before their interview and fashion challenge on the main stage, to DJ Whoo Kid spinning for a brand’s playlist, to integrating a brand’s owned content from other events like New York Fashion Week or SneakerCon. Equally as valuable are the advertiser opportunities that are not in the show, such as tech overlays in billboards, commercials and spotlight trays that direct viewers straight to the retailers. I also see ‘Just for Kicks’ having an in-person experiential footprint that travels to major events where sneaker culture is front and center, like the Grammys, the NBA All-Star game or when the U.S. hosts the World Cup in less than three years.”
Fino says branding is the logical next step in monetizing streaming.
“We watch television every day,” she said. “We live and breathe and buy brands every day. Weaving this into the very fabric of our shows, where our talent is interacting with these brands in order to make their lives better and then encouraging viewers to do the same, is branded entertainment.”