TRUE CONFESSIONS OF BRANDED ENTERTAINMENT MOGULS

M&V Conference Speakers Detail Triumphs and Troubles

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LOS ANGELES -- Frank talk about the promise and pitfalls of branded-entertainment deals took up much of the discussions at last week's third annual Advertising Age Madison & Vine Conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Throughout seminar rooms and corridors, participants shared instructive stories of triumphs and failures in the rapidly expanding marketing genre that integrates advertising and entertainment more aggressively than ever before. In fact, several conference speakers suggested that the very success of recent branded entertainment projects created new sorts of problems for players on all sides of the business.
Ben Silverman

Photos: Gilles Mingasson
'There are so many different things pulling on this space right now.'
Tracey Dorsey

'There are more and more people in this space and that can be a double-edged sword.'
Mitch Kanner

TV show scheduling is crucial for some deals, but 'Will the networks guarantee a schedule?'
Irwin Gotlieb

'Branded integration, in order to be effective, needs multiple channels.'
Katie Lacey

'The 30-second commercial is still incredibly important -- the backbone still is that mass message delivered via mass media.'
Steve Stoute

The Tiger Woods-Buick campaign was a 'classic example of a bad idea.'



Tangled turf lines

"There are so many different things pulling on this space right now and it's really hard to keep your passion and the focus around making a great product that serves all these different agendas," said Ben Silverman, CEO of production house Reveille Entertainment (The Biggest Loser, The Restaurant).

As an example of all the players involved when brokering deals, Mr. Silverman spent several minutes listing them, saying he has to work with "marketers and brands and advertisers and agencies and media companies and intermediaries and consultants and ad sales executives and integration executives at the networks, and specific legal teams that work within the networks to manage the integration, and specific legal teams and executives who work within the holding companies." The lines just aren't clear. "And then the ad agency that you end up meeting nine months later kills the whole deal and you didn't even know that the brand had less power than the agency that represents it. As I navigate those waters, I try to say, 'I really love this idea, I really think it works for you. Let's just make it fair.' "

Crowded space

According to Tracey Dorsey, chief creative officer at Full Circle Entertainment, a growing number of players are brokering more branded entertainment deals than ever before. "There are more and more people in this space, and that can be a double-edged sword. It grows the interest from clients and their learning. It moves the knowledge base forward. And then there are the companies that may fumble the ball and don't do it so well and that hurts you. Everybody points to what made the biggest headlines. They'll say, 'I don't want to do it because I don't want to risk the bad exposure.' "

TV schedule shuffling

A brand-backed TV show, like any other, can be shuffled around a network's schedule at the last minute, making it tough for advertisers to build a marketing program around it. Mitch Kanner, who recently left The Firm and now serves as an independent consultant, questioned whether the needs of marketers could be better served if the shuffling didn't occur.

"Will the networks guarantee a schedule?" Mr. Kanner asked. "I agree that the networks hold all the control. But will you protect the advertiser in a show by letting a schedule live?"

Beyond TV

Irwin Gotlieb, CEO of Group M, which oversees MindShare Entertainment, stressed that branded entertainment doesn't work only with product placement in a TV show. A brand's involvement with a TV show must involve multiple media outlets as well. "Branded integration, in order to be effective, needs multiple channels just as everything else does. Without it, you lose the opportunity to emphasize what you're trying to accomplish. There are lots of configurations that are possible."

Despite a greater emphasis on branded entertainment, nontraditional advertising hasn't killed the 30-second commercial, some say. "We've been shifting our media mix over the last couple of years," said Katie Lacey, vice president of colas and media at Pepsi-Cola North America. "We have to come at our consumer in multiple ways. The 30-second commercial is still incredibly important to us, and an entertaining 30-second commercial is even more important to us. The backbone still is that mass message delivered via mass media."

Brand entertainment not the answer?

Added Marianne Gambelli, NBC Universal's executive vice president of sales and marketing: "I just don't think brand entertainment is the answer to TiVo or digital media. How many successful integrations can you do in an hour? Maybe two or three? You run 15-plus 30-second commercial messages. The one is never going to outweigh the other."

Steve Stoute, chairman of Translation, questioned the wisdom of pairing Tiger Woods with Buick in an ad campaign, when the two seemingly don't have much in common. "I can't say why it doesn't work, but I can say why not," Mr. Stoute said. "It's a classic example of a bad idea. You can use information like Nielsen ratings and Q scores, but you can't rely on that to pull the trigger. You have to rely on your gut. Would anyone really believe that Tiger Woods would own a Buick?"

Separately, Mr. Stoute said, "Everybody wants money, but if you have significant marketing power, you can have a relationship not centered on checks."

Deals gone bad

Several panelists skirted around the issue of branded entertainment deals gone bad, most without ever identifying the specifics or the alluded-to project. Steve Tihanyi, General Motors Corp.'s general director of marketing alliances and regional operations, however, confronted the elephant in the room. "For the record, we were thrilled with the product placement of Cadillac in The Matrix Reloaded," Mr. Tihanyi said. "We loved what [producer] Joel Silver delivered. We just couldn't extend that relationship the way we wanted to."

GM had planned a major multimillion-dollar ad campaign around Reloaded that would have included film footage. The ads had to be scrapped because the filmmakers didn't make the footage or stars available by GM's deadlines. Mr. Tihanyi went on to say that media conglomerates need to take a more holistic approach to working with brands, taking into consideration that marketers are spending significant dollars across any number of a media company's platforms.

Similarly, touching on Mr. Tihanyi’s concerns, John Costello, Home Depot's chief marketing officer and executive vice president of marketing and merchandising, said he had been working on a branded entertainment deal and, in the 11th hour, a producer nixed it because he was uncomfortable with the corporate link.

"The key is to make sure everybody is aligned," Mr. Tihanyi said. "It's important to engage in discussions with all the key decision makers and let's have the tough discussions up front. There's a tendency to be a little too polite up front, and postpone the tough discussions."
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