Deep Focus is launching a new branded-entertainment group called DFx in response to marketers asking for an advertising format that consumers don't want to avoid.
The agency has inked arrangements with 11 media companies, including Tastemade, Popsugar and NowThis, to create, produce and help distribute branded content that could be anything from a reality TV series to a branded video clip, said Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer.
He said the goal is to co-create with the media properties and move away from the approach in which a marketer or agency person comes up with an idea for branded content and then sends request for proposals to a number of production and media properties to create and distribute the content.
Typically, said Mr. Schafer, "Media companies are given an RFP. It's the first time they're hearing about the brand and strategy, and they have a week to turn around a proposal. The brand gets something back that's really shallow. We're taking opportunities to partners and collaboratively assembling a pitch for the advertiser who already agreed to fund the production."
DFx collaborated with Tastemade to produce its first branded series, set to launch this fall for Nestlé Waters' San Pellegrino. The team spent seven days crafting and pitching the series to the client, and will complete the entire production in a couple months. The series, which will be distributed throughout Tastemade's network on YouTube, may be cut down and distributed through other media platforms in various formats, said Mr. Schafer. Tastemade may distribute it through its own social channels. And in this case, Nestle's media agency is handling any separate online buys, such as pre-roll used to promote the web series.
For the media companies, groups like DFx mean access to more brand revenue. Deep Focus, on the flip side, gains access to the media companies' production resources, talent and preferable rates for paid distribution. It also offers a safeguard against the growing tension between the Screen Actors Guild and agencies and producers who try to avoid using expensive SAG talent, said Mr. Schafer. The safeguard is in a master contract DFx has with each of its media partners that insists on transparency around the standard points of contention -- union talent and costs.
"We signed onto agreements to bring things like full disclosures about whether we're working with union talent," said Mr. Schafer.
The SAG saga has been an ongoing issue that can lead to costly and lengthy delays in production. Six months ago, for example, Deep Focus was producing branded content for a client. The production partner didn't disclose that it was using non-union talent, and SAG showed up to protest on the day of shooting, setting production back three weeks, he said. "The time, money and resources that costs – it's significant. Those are completely remedied by full-disclosure agreements that our partners are signing onto."
Deep Focus' branded content ramp-up is also an acknowledgement that marketers are seeking content that looks more like entertainment than advertising, especially with the increasing adoption of ad-blocking tools and general ad avoidance, said Mr. Schafer.
Advertisers in the U.S. are expected to spend $4.3 billion this year on native ads, according to eMarketer. That's a 34% increase from what brands are projected to have spent on native ads last year, Ad Age reported earlier this summer. Media companies have also looked to benefit from branded content, and the resulting influx of revenue, by launching their own creative and production services. Among those publishers and media companies are AOL, BuzzFeed, Vox Media, The New York Times, Vice, Politico, CNN and The Guardian.