Bad things happen when brands try to be too controlling

One way to improve advertising is by reducing clutter and integrating brand messages into content. Long-running late night host Conan O’Brien has collaborated with advertisers for years and was asked by Kevin Reilly, president of TBS, TNT and truTV and chief content officer for HBO Max, what works and what doesn’t.

O’Brien warns that when brands try to be too controlling bad things happen.

“If my fans, or people who consume whatever it is I’m making, feel I’ve been co-opted by the brand, I say you’re spending money but they’re going to resent you because they’re going to feel that you forced Conan to do something that isn’t in his wheelhouse,” O’Brien, host of TBS’s Conan, said at Xandr’s Relevance conference. “So they’re going to resent you. It’s going to be bad for me. It’s going to be bad for you. It’s not going to help people enjoy your brand more.”

O’Brien said that brands like Snickers give him a lot of latitude. “They let us write how we’re going to incorporate Snickers,” he said. “We can do it in a way that’s funny the way I like to be funny. Snickers is the punchline to it and it really works.”

O’Brien has a podcast that now has more than 1 million listeners. He said fans consider one of the best parts of the podcast is when O’Brien tries to read his sponsors’ ad copy and totally butchers it.

“We have not had one person say, ‘We’re not paying for that ad,’ ” he said. “They love it. They know that a lot of times people fast-forward through the ads. They don’t do that on our podcast because they want to hear what I do with this ad. They can hear me lose control and be unable to read the copy. It becomes its own happening.”

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