“Gemini Division” — NBC’s Experiment in Brand Driven Entertainment

It’s very interesting watching how marketing has been aggressively reclaiming television. What’s funny to me is the whole back-to-the-future aspect of this. Brand integration into programming was quite deep in the early days of radio and television, and then a decoupling happened only to start back up with a vengeance in the past few years.

Along with ABC and CBS, NBC is branching out to create programming specifically for the web. Along with this is a concerted effort to make product placement and branding an integral part of the web series. This is happening with some TV shows now like “Eureka” and “Heroes.” Strangely enough, I think I’m getting used to the idea and even warming up to it. The truth of the matter is we in the real world are bombarded with product placement in our own natural environments. Coke or Pepsi “sponsors” our vending machines and the snack selection in our cafeteria, UCSD has a contract with Dell to outfit all of their computer labs with Dell equipment, Starbucks “sponsors” the coffee in our cafeterias, and it goes on … So it seems natural that the virtual worlds within entertainment should have the same sort of daily life product placements. For instance a character only drinks a certain brand of coffee or has a fetish for shoes from a certain designer. We all have our quirks like this and whether we like it or not, the brands we surround ourselves with are like brand placements in our local area. We associate people with certain brands and contrariwise brands with certain people. It’s very true that we can be turned off to a brand because we don’t like the person to which we associate the brand. In this sense, brand is a part of personality in the real world, so in entertainment this notion seems natural. The trick, though, like in real life, is to make sure your brand doesn’t get associated with a personality that people don’t like or can’t relate to.

Another interesting aspect of this experiment is the use of other platforms to engage viewers. First of all, at 4-5-minutes per webisode, they’ve made the webisodes short to appeal to the YouTube generation. These bite size bits that are easy to watch when someone has a bit of spare time on a computer or a handheld mobile device. And then for those folks that like to sit a spell, the entire episode is rolled up to 22-mins at the end of the week. The producers are also introducing some audience participation in what appears to be a big game that revolves around the series. The audience can follow character blogs, help characters solve problems, and audience interest will be used to further develop the story and possible spin-offs. This is a bold experiment in viewer engagement and I wonder how it will go. Sometimes what the masses think they want is not actually compelling so much as it is a mediocre product born from pandering to the lowest common denominator. Fun and entertainment arise from the unexpected — so it could be fun for the writers to take popular opinion and do something opposite to it (this is why “Code Geass: The Lelouch Rebellion” is so engaging. Nothing ever goes as expected and it keeps the audience guessing. Episode 18 or season 2 was particularly messed up. My husband and I were stunned at the events that happened and are eagerly awaiting the next episode.). Anyhow, we have the folks at Omnicon to thank for this experiment. It seems that they have made a strategic partnership with NBC on this. It makes me wonder who is providing the IT and data infrastructure for this adventure :).

I think I will follow this experiment if the show itself is entertaining enough.

Oh, I almost forget the links:

Link 1

Link 2

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