May 22, 2016

It’s Your Show: How to Use Branded Entertainment

rows of empty brown leather theatre seats in a theatre that shows branded entertainement
Photo courtesy

This article was originally posted in May 2016 and updated in January 2022.

Branded entertainment is the way forward for brands struggling to reach consumers. So many brands are experiencing marketing malaise; this feeling that no matter what you try, you’re just not getting the awareness, conversions, or sales that you once did. 

Branded entertainment is branded content produced by or paid for by a brand.

It’s inherently soft-sell advertising because it doesn’t aim to sell a product but to entertain its audience and in that way, drive affinity and loyalty. 

Examples of Branded Entertainment

Branded entertainment can be scripted like your favorite sitcom or unscripted but formatted into a series like something you would watch on Netflix.

It’s Your Show was the Missouri Division of Tourism’s branded video content campaign that told the authentic stories of various travelers.

It was a fun, immersive example of how brands can use authentic storytelling in branded entertainment, and although it has since been shelved, it still acts as a great example of this type of thing done right.


It’s Your Show put their product (tourism) in the back seat to the story.

This was such an organic fit for the brand of the “Show Me” State. It reinforced their push to show, not tell.

The goal was clearly for people to put themselves in one of the featured groups’ shoes (otherwise known as personas) and be entertained by their journey enough to propel them to explore the Gateway Arch and beyond.

Old Courthouse and Gateway Arch St Louis, Courtesy: Missouri Division of Tourism
Old Courthouse and Gateway Arch St Louis, Courtesy: Missouri Division of Tourism

By showcasing user-generated content, they took a very soft-sell approach to their advertising. That can be downright scary for a lot of brands. Relinquishing control of the content to the people it’s meant to serve? That’s courageous.

Here’s what the Missouri Division of Tourism and its agency, H&L Partners, told us at Scenic Road:

Tell me more about how the idea for this campaign came about. (i.e., when did the idea come across your desk; what were your initial thoughts; did you partner with an agency or how did these get produced?)

The creative team at our advertising agency of record, H&L Partners, pitched the “It’s Your Show” campaign idea to us in the Summer of 2015. It was one of four ideas presented for our 2016 spring campaign. While each idea had its merits, we believed this campaign would best align with the existing “Enjoy the Show” campaign and would resonate well with our audience. It also appeared to offer an incredible variety of options for print, digital, outdoor, and television advertising, along with social media content.

“It’s Your Show” is certainly a departure for us. By putting cameras in the hands of travelers, we relinquished control essentially over everything advertisers usually hold close to the vest, including camera angles, wardrobe, and scripts. But we saw the bigger picture and realized the opportunities that existed to create a campaign that would be unique and authentic. This far outweighed the risks.

After greenlighting the campaign, things moved pretty quickly, with the bulk of shooting completed in mid-September. Our partners at H&L reviewed photos and footage and created advertising assets through winter. Assets that were created to support the campaign included a robust microsite that houses additional video footage and allows consumers to track each of the six tourist groups on their journeys through Missouri.

Appealing to those seeking family fun in Missouri. Courtesy: Missouri Division of Tourism
Appealing to those seeking family fun in Missouri. Courtesy: Missouri Division of Tourism

Why did you choose an authentic storytelling approach, especially utilizing real people?

We thought through how we could evolve the “Enjoy the Show” campaign and what Missouri can offer to travelers. We collectively agreed that Missouri vacations are purely authentic moments experienced with loved ones. Today’s consumers are about the “selfie” and recording moments on their phones while vacationing. Based on Facebook, Instagram, and Snap Chat feeds, it’s second nature.

Our plan was to arm campaign participants with camera phones and GoPros, and then utilize that authentic, consumer-generated footage to bring viewers on their journeys. Potential travelers could more easily see themselves through the lens of campaign tourists, hopefully imagining their own vacations and fun, memorable experiences.

Why did you select the specific personas?

We believe these groups are representative of the people who visit Missouri. At the same time, their interests aligned perfectly with the five activity genres around which our marketing campaigns are built – family fun, outdoor recreation, nightlife and entertainment, sports and gaming, and arts and culture. That’s why you see such a variety of activities across groups.

Courtesy: Missouri Division of Tourism
Appealing to those seeking nightlife in Missouri  Courtesy: Missouri Division of Tourism

What was the ROI of clicks, likes, increased sales, or anything else you can share?

The campaign is in its infancy, so it’s too early to confirm results. But we’ve received 75,000 visits to the It’s Your Show section of since launch. We expect that number to grow quickly as the full media campaign takes hold in all target markets. So it’s a great jump-start for the campaign online. 

Why do you think these videos are resonating as much as they are?

The “real people, real places” approach of this campaign cannot be overstated. People who see our commercials or watch the groups’ respective videos are making a connection. They’re seeing themselves enjoying those same activities and hopefully planning to do the same things – in Missouri.

These seem to work across platforms (social/digital, TV)… was that a consideration, and why?

This campaign is holistic by design because we are committed to reaching people with consistent messages in various ways. Our marketing strategy is built on utilizing a strong and diversified media mix because we want people to see and hear consistent messages in print, on TV, online, and on social media. With this campaign, we, of course, want to build brand awareness. But we are also striving to go beyond awareness to inspire families, couples, girlfriends, and buddies to come to experience Missouri for themselves.

Overall, this branded entertainment campaign works because it understands that tourists want content that is utilitarian and entertaining and experiential, and emotional. By putting consumers in control of the messaging and offering all of these aspects in one campaign, “It’s Your Show” shows its core audience that it’s really listening to what the audience wants to hear and then telling them stories that align. And that’s the way to achieve the most powerful storytelling.

Looking for additional examples of branded entertainment such as brand films? Check out some of our latest work

Have you seen a great branded entertainment story or campaign (or told one yourself) lately? Share it with us, or reach out to have us ideate your next campaign.