MSN Deemphasizes ‘Branded Entertainment’

MSN is deemphasizing “branded entertainment” solutions of the sort it once touted heavily to marketers, according to MSN’s new general manager of entertainment and video, Rob Bennett.

While it will still build custom branded content for marketers, Bennett indicated a shift was underway in how the company thinks about brand integration. He said MSN will now work to better integrate advertising with the more heavily-trafficked sections of the portal.

Bennett pointed to MSN’s Oscar coverage, which he said garnered upward of 150 million page views, as an example of content that’s ripe for deeper advertiser integration.

He said MSN will “build deep engaging brand experiences into the places we know people are already coming.”

“We are continuing to expand the definition [of branded entertainment],” Bennett said. “For clients that want rich standalone experiences like we did with Sprite, we’re going to absolutely do these things. For clients that want to integrate with existing content that users are already coming to, then we’re going to add those to the portfolio as well.”

The deemphasis of custom branded content suggests MSN users may see fewer new programming elements like “The Scenario,” a Sprite-branded section the portal created almost exactly a year ago for music-loving teens. The site was hosted by Sprite’s digital spokesperson, Miles Thirst, an action figure-sized character that dished out one-liners to Web audiences.

At the time, the company had just set up a “Branded Entertainment and Experiences Team” and was in the midst of talking up these custom solutions to marketers.

Previous branded entertainment offerings from MSN’s “content solutions team” included an American Express’ “In the Mix” integration with MSN Music; a Gillette tie-in with MSN Video and Fox Sports on MSN; and a New Balance “Fit in the City” microsite on MSN.

Bennett called such branded content programs “typically much more involved campaigns to pull off.”

Bennett was promoted last month from project unit manager of MSN Video to oversee all of the portal’s entertainment and video services. He reports to John Nicol, general manager of MSN. Gayle Troberman, Microsoft’s senior director of branded entertainment, reports directly to Joanne Bradford, the company’s corporate VP of global sales and trade marketing, and chief media revenue officer.

Editor’s note: This story was revised after MSN offered more details of its branded entertainment plans. The company objected to an earlier version.

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