An exercise in trust: how Jono and Ben are cracking the branded content conundrum

Brands are increasingly looking to put their messages inside the content, rather than inbetween it. Formats like The Block NZ and Masterchef allow for what the broadcasters like to call ‘seamless integration’, even though it can sometimes be slightly gratuitous. And a rare few other shows, chief among them Jono and Ben at 10, are using their skills to weave brands into the content without annoying the audience or even creating content outside of the show. Chris Lloyd, sales manager at MediaWorks’ integration team, discusses its process.

Chris Lloyd, sales manager at MediaWorks‘ integration team, has a simple rule for clients when it comes to branded content: “Look natural and don’t interrupt. They can be an enabler of funny content or experiences. But it doesn’t work when a brand comes in and makes them talk in a different way.” 

Letting go is hard for brands to do. They’re used to being in control of the message. And he says there are some who seem to think that branded content is akin to getting a 30 second ad inside the show. But, as he says, as more and more people realise they want to do this kind of thing, there is more of an acceptance that everything has to be in the editorial voice if the brands want it to work.

“We take a client brief and we try to match that to the show … They need to trust the producers. They know what’s funny and what the audience wants. It’s a trust exercise.” 

Sometimes he says it just can’t find a middle ground between the brand guidelines and the show (producers get final sign off on all the ideas). But as it continues to deliver results with its integration campaigns, and as the planning teams at Spark and OMD have been able to educate clients as to what’s going to work, he says that trust is increasing, with Heineken and V among the most progressive clients in that regard. 

Things kicked off in series one of the show. Shapes Roadies was a broadcast sponsor and that led to the creation of the Manchilds skit, which fitted in well with its brand campaign (Hallensteins now sponsors the show and Lloyd says it’s “in and around the show”, with some sketches filmed instore). 

It then got briefed on an opportunity to do a local version of Heineken’s international ‘Dropped’ campaign, which was all about taking drinkers out of their comfort zone and seeing if they could think on their feet. 

It wasn’t easy, however. He says the Singapore office didn’t really get the humour. And neither did the Dutch. But the locals understood the pair were a good fit, so MediaWorks created something outside of the show that called on the expertise of the hosts and the producers to create good content. 

 And the success of that led to the Road to the Final campaign. 

Generally, Lloyd says New Zealanders don’t care that much about football, whereas overseas “they will crawl over cut glass to get tickets” to an event like the Champions League. So instead of focusing on the sporting occasion, it dialled up the luxury, money-can’t-buy elements of the prize (and got Jono and Ben to embrace the Wayne’s World approach by openly acknowledging the deal). 

It asked people to apply for a spot and then, in the spirit of Heineken’s Dropped campaign, put the finalists through a series of challenges to find out how they reacted. The highlight was the creation of a fake TV studio at Sale St, where they thought they were going to be interviewed by Heineken executives but instead were led into a ‘studio’ and led to believe a show was being filmed. Some couldn’t handle the jandal when the pressure came on, but some proved they were “men of the world”. And it led to some great, if awkward, viewing.

The campaign then crossed over to radio, with The Rock offering a wildcard entry for the fourth semi-final place. And the winner was chosen through a stand-up comedy gig that aired live on the radio show. Lloyd admits some of it didn’t work, but that’s the idea. More risk = more reward.

In the end they received 5,100 entries and the feedback was great, he says, with DB asked to provide a reel for international markets as an example of best practice and the campaign winning a silver at BE Fest Awards in Australia in the best sponsorship or product integration category (it was the only Kiwi brand to win an award).

“It was the perfect balance of Heineken’s premium brand attributes world-class stature and personality tied in with local relevance,” said Heineken NZ marketing manager Jen Macindoe in a release.  

And it was a win-win, because, as the hosts got to go along on the trip, they also filmed a whole lot of their overseas experience.

“We took advantage of that opportunity to send the rest of the crew over there to get more content,” says Lloyd. 

V is the other brand that’s embraced the show and MediaWorks’ various brands to gets its message across, getting the network involved in its Battle Carts campaign last year and again with this year’s Give it a V campaign via Colenso BBDO, which has so far taken public suggestions and given sky diving, art and photobombs a V. 

Lloyd says V are publishers in their own right. And he says Luke Rive, V’s marketing manager, understands that the idea has got to work for the show first and foremost. So it decided to use its radio brands to give Mondays a VMike Puru’s house a V and The Edge’s Cash Cannon a V

Jono and Ben at 10 were then enlisted to give the ice bucket challenge a V so it brought Vanilla Ice to New Zealand, put on a concert at the Powerstation, which it broadcasted live, and got some great content for the show as a result.

Lloyd says it had huge cut through and it speaks volumes about the power of the idea that The Rock also got behind a concert from a ‘90s hip hop star, which isn’t exactly their heartland musical territory. 

Elsewhere, he says Smash and Four Live are able to take ad-hoc integration campaigns. And X Factor NZ will also feature plenty of it. 7 Days is “quite clean”, at least in the integration sense, although its broadcast sponsor Georgie Pie did incorporate a segment in to the show through the Comedy Apprentice. And that got a lot of entries.  

“The levels of what you can get away with is different from show to show. But the key thing is that it has to be true to the show.” 

Magazines and radio have been doing branded content for many years, he says, and, as is often noted, that’s where the term soaps came from. And there are ways of doing it through most platforms. But there’s no one size fits all. This means the bespoke branded content ideas are often resource heavy. So is there a margin in it? 

Yes, he says. He’s been in the role for two-and-a-half years and the revenue has gone up exponentially every year. And staff numbers are also going up. Three-and-a-half years ago, he says there was a team of two. Now there’s around 20 working across platforms, with specialists in radio and interactive in the same office. 

He says most of its business comes in through briefs from media agencies to the TV sales team. But they generally call for something across the various platforms. 

“We find the channel that works best for the client.” 

And, as the network was keen to point out at its new season launch last week, having a range of different channels is its main point of difference—and the reason its reach figures are so high. 

“There’s also a recognition from the network that this is a valuable part of what we can do and there are more clients who are interested in it.” 

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