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For #GiftofRevenge Campaign, the Devil’s in the Details

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This week during the hit drama series “Revenge,” ABC teamed up with Neiman Marcus and Target for an advertiser integration that marked a “one step forward, two steps back moment” for branded content and social TV.

In lieu of  buying a traditional 30-second spot to launch “Neiman Marcus for Target,” the network aired a scripted mini-series to craft a story around the new luxury-for-less retail line, mimicking the look and feel of “Revenge.” As the show’s characters unwrapped various Target items, viewers were prompted to tweet with the hashtag #GiftofRevenge, which was displayed throughout the episode.

The effort was forward-thinking in its quest to rethink the traditional TV advertising model, but it fell short in both strategy and execution. At the end of the day, a campaign meant to cut through the clutter ended up diluting the consumer experience and the benefit for all involved brands as a result.

Here’s a breakdown of where the missteps occurred, along with some tips for how programmers and advertisers can create better experiences in the future.

The content detracted from the episode

The show-within-a-show format was totally disconnected from the actual storyline — and at times clumsily so. As viewers watched the real episode pause on a tense moment, they were quickly jilted to a Target-sponsored Hamptons bash. There was also limited context for viewers just tuning in, creating a disorienting effect as viewers were taken from actual scenes to sponsored scenes, which not only broke the rhythm of the episode but left many fans genuinely confused.

The fan experience was also hampered when “Revenge” actress Ashley Madekwe was recast with another exotic British beauty in the branded content. (There’s no way fans would notice that … right?)

The fix? Be authentic and relevant to enrich the episode itself, in context.

There was no real pay-off for the viewer

The campaign overall provided little added value to viewers, both in the content and social components (which could have shown more integration). The extension should have been used to deepen the fan connection, the characters, plot or creative process, all through the lens of the Neiman Marcus for Target brand. Instead, it smacked of a standard product placement.

The show’s die hard fanbase would have gone crazy over behind-the-scenes looks at the show’s wardrobe design, the chance to win one of the character’s actual outfits, or the experience of a new story line thematically tied to the brand. Delivering value to consumers is crucial if you want to inspire action and not just awareness – especially in digital.

The fix? Tap into what fans love to ignite their full social potential.

The promotion weakened the partnership

With shaky groundwork, the cards were stacked against the promotion — a shame given the innovative nature of the concept. Moreover, there were missed opportunities to put a band-aid on the problems above. For starters, the #GiftofRevenge hashtag and its use throughout the full hour was somehow heavy-handed without making a strong connection to the advertiser.

On the paid media side, promoted Target tweets did not mention #GiftofRevenge, while press partner US Weekly mentioned neither Neiman Marcus nor Target in their own social messaging. For fans following along on their second screens, this made for a disjointed experience.

The fix? Use paid, earned and owned media to strengthen your campaign foundation – and position it consistently across channels.

Native advertising isn’t just the wave of the future; for cutting-edge marketers, it’s already here [Read more: Native Advertising – but It Doesn’t Look like an Ad]. But unfortunately, as the characters of Revenge know all too well, the devil’s in the details – and brands need to play by consumers rules if they want to play in their world.

Cover image courtesy of ABC