NPR

From Brand Journalism to Branded Entertainment

Tonight’s "Late Night With Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra comedy sketch paid for by American Express in a slot where traditional TV ads would have appeared as part of an experiment involving branded entertainment.

Tonight’s "Late Night With Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra comedy sketch paid for by American Express in a slot where traditional TV ads would have appeared as part of an experiment involving branded entertainment.

First came brand journalism. Now we have branded entertainment. 

Tonight’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra sketch sponsored by American Express. Other shows such as “The Voice,” “Blindspot” and “Today” have slipped sponsored content into slots normally occupied by traditional advertising.

Branded entertainment, in the form of comedy sketches, extra interviews or extended segments, reduces the amount of advertising while still making the cash register ring. It is a response to more viewers moving to services such as Hulu that offer content without advertising breaks. TV networks are banking that fewer advertising slots will fetch higher prices and different kinds of slots will appeal to gold-star advertisers like American Express.

The notion of branded entertainment is as old as radio and television. Way back when, individual sponsors were associated with shows. The Jack Benny Show was originally called “The Lucky Strike Program.” Ed Sullivan’s Sunday evening variety show was primarily sponsored by the Lincoln-Mercury Division of the Ford Motor Company. 

Native advertising, where the ads look and feel like the content or medium they appear with, has been gaining in popularity. But it is still advertising, which some readers and viewers want to avoid. Branded entertainment, which involves sponsorships, is an attractive alternative.

National Public Radio has a form of branded news and entertainment, with sponsors that receive Twitter-size acknowledgements. Weather and traffic reports on radio and TV are another common form of branded content.

According to The New York Times, American Express approached NBC last December about its branded entertainment idea, which it will use to promote one of its credit cards. An American Express spokesman called the partnership with NBC an opportunity “to create a different kind of paradigm” for TV advertising in an increasingly segmented market. 

If the experiment works, expect to see it replicated on more than TV shows as well as promoted on popular online news sites. NBC invested $200 million in BuzzFeed, which “will produce online posts related to sponsored programming,” the New York Times reported.

Visual Storytelling: Child's Play

Children's storybooks delight children and parents alike because of the dazzling interplay of words and pictures. Their success underscores the power of visual storytelling.

"Sure, picture books are great, but I never could do anything like that," is a typical refrain. The truth is, you can tell a story visually if you let the child in you out.

Martin Salisbury, an illustrator, and Morag Styles, a professor of children's literature, collaborated on Children's Picturebooks, The Art of Visual Storytelling. The book describes how these books charm young and old and the key stages of conceiving a visual narrative.

In an interview with NPR, Salisbury says the appeal of picture books is "the simple visual style [that] allows readers to project their own personalities and thoughts onto the character." Sparking imagination in viewers leads to engagement. And that engagement can be etched deeply in the memory, as reflected by how many pictures and phrases adults remember from children's picture books.

Visual narratives aren't dumbed-down narratives or merely pictures added to illustrate words. "It's that issue of condensing something into something very elegant and short, usually 32 pages, which is very, very complex to do," explains Salisbury. "Making it look simple and elegant is perhaps the hardest thing to do."

It also takes hard work, much the way Mark Twain meant when he said he would have written a shorter letter — if he had more time.

As understatement has fallen out of favor to the more raucous exchanges of reality TV, visual communication remains a source of subtlety. In his NPR interview, Salisbury cites Rosie's Walk as an example of pictures telling a subtle story. Rosie the hen struts through a farmyard while a fox stalks her in the background. The text never mentions the fox's intentions as it describes a series of misadventures by the fox. Nevertheless, children invariably shout at Rosie to watch out for the fox. In marketing, we call that subliminal messaging.

Dominion Over Domain Names

A proposal to add more domain names to the Internet has sparked a global controversy and could wind up posing a significant dilemma for companies and brands with an online presence.Amid a loud outcry of opposition from regulators, advertisers and major brands, an under-the-radar organization responsible for regulating the global Internet has begun accepting applications to create new domain categories — the suffixes to online addresses such as .com.

For $185,000, applicants would be able to register a new domain name that could theoretically give a company or group increased identity on the Internet. There are 22 generic domain names now in use. Critics say the expansion would squander money as companies are forced to defensively buy more names on domains they will never use. Regulators add that additional domains could increase scamming.