The Hulu exec leading product placement says its brand integrations rose 200% in the last year and explains how its strategy differs from rivals like Netflix

Business Insider Entertainment 0 month ago

Bottles of Miller High Life linger on tables and in the hands of neighbors coping with tragedy in various scenes in Hulu's heavy-hitting drama series, "The Act," which won Patricia Arquette an Emmy for outstanding supporting actress in a limited series this year.

The show is one of four recent Hulu originals that featured MillerCoors products, as part of a broader push to grow awareness for the beer company's emerging and lesser-known brands.

The deal with MillerCoors, announced in April, was Hulu's first expansive deal with an advertiser that included multiple integrations into numerous originals on the platform.

Advertisers have been looking for more ways to get into the cultural conversations around blockbuster TV shows. Increasingly, those series are on on-demand streaming video (SVOD) services like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video.

Hulu, as the largest US SVOD player that sells advertising, has been actively pursuing product placement deals as it expands its slate of originals, and looks for ways to incorporate ads while limiting commercial interruptions, Nicole Sabatini, who oversees brand integrations at Hulu in her role as vice president of integrated marketing, told Business Insider.

From 2018 to 2019, Hulu tripled the number of brand integrations in its original programming, the company said. 

"Some of that is based on the growth of our originals overall, and a lot of that is based on the growing interest from brands that want to be integrated into the stories on a platform like Hulu," Sabatini said. "The shows that live on streaming platforms are incredibly buzzy, part of the pop-culture zeitgeist, and often the most award winning ... Brands know that to be part of that conversation, this is the space they need to be in."

Hulu has a dedicated team that handles product placements and other integrations

Hulu has a dedicated, "integrated storytelling" team of three staffers, overseen by Sabatini, who lead the company's brand integration efforts with support from other divisions within the company.

The integrated storytelling team begins conversations with Hulu's production partners as soon as an original show is greenlit. It works with the studios while the scripts and storylines are being developed to find opportunities to weave in brands.

The Blumhouse horror anthology, "Into the Dark," for instance, has a scene that takes place in a diner. Hulu worked in a neon Miller Lite sign in the background, and a can that sits prominently on the countertop.

The approach is more concerted than at some other streaming companies. Most of the product placements in Netflix shows, for example, and handled by the individual productions rather than Netflix staffers, though the streaming giant does have a growing team devoted to striking bigger marketing tie-ins and licensing deals.

"We're in such a unique place, as a streamer, an OTT provider, but also having the ad-supported model," Sabatini said. "To do this right, we have really meaningful conversations with the studios as soon as the show is greenlit, so that we can take both a proactive or a reactive stand in this space."

Where Netflix prefers to approach brands with its ideas, Hulu not only reaches out to brands with opportunities but also regularly responds to brands' requests for proposals. When responding to RFPs, Sabatini said her team looks at the brand's goals, voice, and timeline for an integration, as well as its own slate of originals, to see what might be a good fit.

Her team works closely with Hulu's content marketing groups, as well, to see where brands can be included in the promotions for Hulu originals.

The streaming company created a 30-second commercial with Hotels.com around "Castle Rock," an anthology series based on Stephen King's literary works. In the ad, a couple took a detour on the backroads of Castle Rock, a town from King's lore, on the way to a yoga retreat.

"That brand didn't make sense to be integrated into the show, but that didn't mean that we couldn't figure out a way for the brand to be integrated within the idea of what the show was about," Sabatini said. 

The streaming company may have more options to weave brands in and around its shows than some of its SVOD competitors because its platform features advertising. Brands can sponsor shows or collections of shows on the service, among other offerings. Hulu can also retarget ads to viewers who have watched a particular show on Hulu, to build on in-show placements, Sabatini said.

"Your brand can be integrated in-show and you can extend that brand message out of show," Sabatini said. "The ways in which you can do that continue to evolve, and what brands are really looking for from someone like Hulu is to help educate them around what all of those new and different ways are."

Hulu is seeing more interest from emerging and direct-to-consumer brands 

Many of the brand integrations led by Sabatini's team are paid, although there are various kinds of deals, including placements handled directly by the production companies, as is common in TV.

Sabatini said the investment commitment Hulu looks for varies by brand category and type of integration, and did not elaborate on the range.

A lot of Hulu's partnerships around shows include category exclusivity, meaning Miller High Life, for instance, would be the only beer brand to appear in those episodes of "The Act."

Hulu works with a lot of the brands you'd expect to see in TV shows, including big consumer-packaged-goods companies, car markers, and electronics manufacturers.

But it's also seeing more interest from emerging companies, and direct-to-consumer brands like Hotels.com. Those brands, some of which are still building awareness among consumers, want to be featured in more stories, Sabatini said.

"We really are seeing it broaden amongst the types of brands that are interested in integrating storytelling conversations with us," Sabatini said. "We started to do some partnerships in that space and continue to have a lot of conversations."


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