|Ad Age editor Scott Donaton, who wrote the 2004 book of the same name on the emerging Madison + Vine industry, sees major changes occuring in how marketers and media are working together.
To fully realize the promise of branded entertainment, "these industries have to overcome distrust, often-divergent agendas and creative conflicts." Or so I wrote in my 2004 book, "Madison + Vine" (hey, we understand branding here, if little else).
It was true. These weren't just strange bedfellows, they were unlikely and reluctant ones. For decades, they ignored each other, sticking to their respective coasts and independent business models. Now they would have to collaborate. And -- perhaps in a bigger challenge -- they would have to prove that those collaborations could be more than just glorified product placements. More creative. More organic. More accountable.
It wasn't clear in 2003 (or 2004, or even last year) that they would rise to the occasion. But as the two sides gathered for the fourth time earlier this month at our Madison + Vine conference in Beverly Hills, it occurred to me that -- finally -- branded entertainment is emerging as a discipline in its own right. Only it's not one discipline. And it's no longer really an intersection where two sides are crossing paths.
It's become something more, and, at the same time, less. More real. Less clearly defined. It's no longer easy to determine where brands end and entertainment begins. I don't mean this as a negative, involving consumer confusion. Rather, there's a true blending of the two in a way that, when it works, benefits both brands and entertainment marketers. As well as consumers.
Madison + Vine is no longer an intersection; it's a destination. The two have become one, in a true integration.
What am I talking about? Some of the best examples came from Steve Heyer, the original keynote speaker at our 2003 conference and a speaker at this most recent event, where I engaged him in a one-on-one. Steve is now the CEO of Starwood, where he doesn't have much of a media budget, but he does have some really strong brands and a great distribution platform. The deals he's doing are as much about putting entertainment products into his brands as they are about putting his brands into entertainment.
Having defined a positioning for each of his chains -- to differentiate a W from a Sheraton from a St. Regis -- he's forging strategic alliances with partners that enhance those distinctions. So Victoria's Secret will do runway shows at hip W locations, while Christie's will conduct wine auctions at upscale St. Regis and Yahoo will offer wireless Web access to Sheraton's business travelers.
In that last example, Yahoo and Starwood will split revenue when the online service signs new customers through the program. Which one's the client there, and which the medium? Answer: It doesn't matter. Those terms no longer apply.
This is happening all over the place, with brands serving as distribution, marketing and even sales platforms for movies, music, video games and TV shows. As Verizon Wireless CMO John Stratton made clear in his keynote speech, his company is at the same time an entertainment and information medium; an advertising platform; and a marketer of its own brand. He buys time on David Letterman's TV show to promote Verizon Wireless and he broadcasts Letterman's "Top 10" list over mobile phones to promote the TV show and its parent network, CBS, and to sell more phones. It's a blurring of identities the likes of which the media business hasn't seen before.
And it's really exciting.