Recently in the NYTimes:
In the first episode of “Lovespring International,” a new comedy on the Lifetime channel about a dysfunctional dating service in Southern California, the owner of the agency storms into an office, furious at two employees.
“Do you know how many people have signed up for Perfectmatch.com in the last five minutes?” she barks. “1,623.”
In real life, Perfectmatch.com is a subscription-based online dating service with more than three million members. On “Lovespring International,” Perfectmatch.com will appear throughout the season as a faceless nemesis that is mentioned flatteringly as it steals clients from Lovespring.
Call it sponsorship, branded entertainment or product integration, but Perfectmatch’s deal with Lifetime is increasingly common in advertising — weaving the name of a product into a television show or film, not as an obvious ad, but as a distinct part of the story. (In another episode, a disgruntled client screams, “I would have had better luck on Perfectmatch.com.")
As the idea of the 30-second spot becomes extinct, the TV world is scrambling to come up with new ideas. Branded entertainment is a return to the early years of TV before the advent of content-interrupting commercials. Branded entertainment has the advantage that it survives ripping, bittorrenting, Tivoing, slingboxing and just about any other kind of time-shifting or place-shifting technology. The problem is that this is the equivalent of burning in a giant corporate logo over the entire screen. Sure, everyone will see your logo but does that mean they want to watch a show all about your logo?