Columbia College Chicago (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2010 Proceedings
Publication year: 2010
Pages: 3815-3816
ISBN: 978-84-613-5538-9
ISSN: 2340-1079
Conference name: 4th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 8-10 March, 2010
Location: Valencia, Spain
I am the co-creator and co-writer of a unique web series entitled, “The Omission”. “The Omission” is a branded entertainment webisode targeted at sexually active 18-25 year olds who are potentially at risk for STD’s/HIV and AIDS. The creative goal was to engage the demographic by creating a story and characters that simulated their way of life. The marketing strategy was to involve the audience in the story and characters and to allow the natural use of a product to rise from story organically.

As sponsors struggle to find a way to keep ‘eyeballs’ on their ads in the post TiVo/DVR world, ‘branded entertainment’, the introduction of brands into already existing storylines has become a common media industry experiment across all screens; Film, TV, Internet and Mobile. The overt and comical insertion of Verizon phones into the sitcom “30 Rock” is a great example of ‘product placement’, where products are displayed, often numerous times, during an episode. However, there is a much more subtle and possibly more sustainable type of branded entertainment called ‘brand integration’.

The idea behind brand integration is to create a storyline and characters that are, in themselves, ‘sticky’ or endearing to an audience. As the audience becomes engrossed in the story they will notice that the characters are organically using certain branded products. Electric Farm’s new sci-fi online hit, “Gemini Division”, starring Rosaurio Dawson, is one such success. The series uses Cisco devices as an integral part of the storytelling process.

In our original branded web series, ‘The Omission’, we were the first to use brand integration to distigmatize STD/HIV/AIDS testing while also ‘sexualizing’ the brand and making transparency around sexual history a hot topic. The task was to attract the 18-25 demographic who were known for at risk sexual behaviors.

These consumers are ‘digital-natives’, living a double life—online and off. They extend themselves on social networking sights like Facebook and MySpace, interacting with strangers and friends moment to moment, around the globe. It occurred to me that the way that one makes new friends on social networking sights is an interesting parallel to the way that STD’s are potentially spread. When you ‘friend’ someone on FB you then have access to all of their friends. Just as when you have sex with someone you then have access to everyone that they’ve had sex with and possibly, to their STD’s as well. And so we began to develop a story that would address ‘hook-ups’ as having exponential consequences, explored through using social media as both a framing device and as ‘sexual-networking’ tools.

We had to find a way to communicate with the ‘digital-natives’ in their own language, with a tone that would inspire them to get tested without chastising them or making them feel that they had done something ‘bad’. We designed ‘aspirational’ characters that the target demographic ‘wanted’ to be. Aspiring rock-stars, 20-somethings struggling to make it, these folks speak the language of the digital-native. And the risky world of rock and roll with it’s seedy clubs, hot people, and intoxicated fans is the perfect climate for reckless hook-ups, mash-ups and break-ups---the stuff of good drama—and the power to make getting tested for STD’s…cool.
webisode, stds, branded entertainment.