Branded Entertainment

Branded Entertainment: Beyond Product Placement


Al Saltiel is Vice President-Marketing for Navistar, a family of innovative companies providing integrated, best-in-class transportation solutions. Previously, Al was General Manager Strategic Marketing at Sony Electronics and Director at Ford Motor Company – P.A.G.

It’s been nearly 8 years since BMW launched arguably the most successful integrated marketing campaign in the history of the Internet. Marketers stood in envy of an effort that would become a booming trend in the new millennium: branded entertainment.

We’re not just talking product placement here. We’re talking product as the central character of a timeless narrative that brings the brand to life.

In a time when customers are bombarded by messages, images and the business of busy lives, marketers are looking for ways to create meaningful interactions. To capture the attention of hard-to-engage consumers, many companies have turned to Hollywood for inspiration.

Earlier this year, Navistar launched the International LoneStar, and one of the major launch components was Drive and Deliver, a 45-minute documentary telling the stories of three truckers as they each took the LoneStar on the road for a week. It celebrated their passion for trucking, lamented the time spent away from family, and showcased the love affair of truckers and their rigs. Ultimately, it positioned International as the brand that brings back pride to trucking (see

We’d dabbled in the entertainment arena before, but only with product placement. So as we approached our first foray into branded storytelling, we looked to BMW, Dove, IBM and other brands that have successfully captivated their audiences.

Here are the principles we followed:

  1. Strike a chord around your target’s passion points. In our case, truckers felt underappreciated and misunderstood. We saw an opportunity to play the role of “advocate” in changing this perception.
  2. Develop an entertainment concept that best accomplishes your objectives. We wanted to change brand perception while having an anchor for lead generation and customer interaction. A 45-minute film was the right medium for us to accomplish these objectives while showing truckers that they matter in a substantial way.
  3. Be very clear on your strategy, objectives and expectations when selecting and working with your director and production company. Academy Award-nominated director Brett Morgen was the right person for our job; he was enormously interested in trucking and had a passion to tell our story.
  4. Make sure that there is internal alignment to the direction, as well as the risk associated with moving forward. Everyone wants to be involved in a “Hollywood” project, which makes for a lot of opinions, as well as extreme scrutiny.
  5. Create a 360 degree campaign around the idea. Leverage the power of public relations (see NY Times article), the power of the interactive medium and the social networks of your target audience.

  • Something Big is Coming! Stay tuned for more details on the 2014 TMSA Boot Camp in September!
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn