AToMiC 2017: Brand integrations that work both ways

Universal Studios and the Salvation Army each found winning partnerships to push their messages.


Pets1This article appears in the June 2017 of strategy.

The Wins: Universal Studios Canada “The Secret Life of Pets” by Maxus Silver Best Brand Integration, and Salvation Army “Murdoch Mysteries Red Kettle Campaign” by MediaCom Silver Best Brand Integration

Sometimes brands find it useful to integrate their pitches into entertainment content to develop a deeper narrative than would be possible in a short commercial. Other times, the entertainment product needs the help of a brand to reach a target and build hype. These mutually beneficial partnerships helped the Salvation Army play up its heritage and boost holiday fundraising, and The Secret Life of Pets to recreate its premise in everyday homes.

Last summer wasn’t the easiest one for a new animated movie starring animals. The Jungle Book, Finding Dory and another Ice Age were all released, returning with beloved animal characters. Rather than only competing for the attention of families with children, Universal Studios Canada and Maxus also targeted pet owners to promote The Secret Life of Pets.

Building off the movie’s tagline – “Ever wonder what your pets do when you’re not home?” – the studio partnered with Rogers and its Smart Home Monitoring (SMH) service, repositioning the security system as a pet-spying tool to create a real-life answer to the movie. People could use the mobile-accessible devices to keep tabs on their pets’ secret lives, promoting both the service and the film. Co-branded content played up the connection by integrating shots of pets shot on SMH with scenes from the film.

The partnership allowed Universal to benefit from Rogers’ in-house self-promotion across its whole media network while upping the entertainment value of the Rogers ads. The campaign’s media value exceeded its spend four-fold, garnering 127 million unpaid impressions. The film debuted at number one, earning $104 million in its opening weekend – the biggest opening for an original animated movie.

On the other side of the brand-entertainment equation, CBC’s Murdoch Mysteries is becoming a reliable vehicle for organizations seeking to display their heritage during the holidays (a SickKids integration with the show won a Silver in this category last year).

MurdochThe Salvation Army’s research showed nostalgia can influence where people donate during the holiday season. To portray its brand heritage, the organization and MediaCom wove its story into the show’s two-hour holiday special, highlighting the charity’s role in providing food and shelter to those in need and the long history of its Red Kettle.

It also ran brand-sell spots throughout, with custom lower-third ads directing viewers to its donations website. The Salvation Army sponsored the Murdoch Mysteries website, which featured a special donation button. While the show provided a platform for the organization to tell its story, the partnership also enhanced the period show’s authenticity.

The campaign raised more than $23.5 million, boosting the organization’s December fundraising by 12%.