EXPLOITING THE CROSSOVER POTENTIAL OF COMIC BOOKS

Spacedog's Roger Mincheff Integrates Brands Into Graphic Novels

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Who: Roger Mincheff, president-CEO, Spacedog.

Why you need to know him: Mr. Mincheff’s company has built a name for itself in the interactive marketing arena, but has recently made moves into the branded-entertainment space, integrating brands into comic books through a relationship with publisher Top Cow Comics. The company produced last year’s controversial campaign for Carl’s Jr. and Hardee's Restaurants that featured Paris Hilton.
Roger Mincheff, president-CEO of Spacedog. His goal is to use graphic novels as a starting point to move a brand into TV, film, video games and wireless content.



Credentials: Before founding Spacedog in 1998, Mr. Mincheff served as president and board member of Internet advertising and marketing agency Enhanced Services, where he repped clients such as Netscape and Playboy.com. He also served as VP-business development and marketing for new-media company Zentropy Interactive, launching its digital marketing group and overseeing its business-development activities for PolyGram Group Distribution, Nicole Miller, Neutrogena and Lifetime Television. He was one of four principals that steered Zentropy through its investment process (it ultimately was acquired by the Interpublic Group of Cos. in 1998). Before that, Mr. Mincheff managed the online marketing department of Philips Media, a division of Philips Electronics. He entered the interactive space as the director of marketing for Earth Spirit, an environmentally based online service dedicated to networking educational institutes and nonprofit organizations.

What is Spacedog trying to do in the area of branded entertainment? “Having lived through the Internet boom, branded entertainment is quite similar in that it is currently more about the excitement and hype of what it could mean rather than the reality. Spacedog’s focus is on the reality of the opportunities available today, understanding the realistic possibilities and being able to marry our knowledge of entertainment to our experience with brands in order to create an impact -- but very specifically, an impact with quantifiable metrics and results. We are not about buzz for buzz sake. Spacedog has a very commercial eye for campaigns and projects that tap into current day lifestyle in a relevant and pertinent way.”

What types of clients have you worked with? Since its formation, Spacedog has produced interactive campaigns and entertainment content opportunities for major brands including Mazda, Citibank, Qantas Airways, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s Restaurants, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Music Publishing, Fox Sports, Earthlink, Interscope Records and Westfield Malls.

Where did the name Spacedog come from? “We're down to earth, friendly and we're from the future. But seriously, judge us by our work, not our name.”

How are you developing your projects when it comes to the brands? Are you pitching marketers finished ideas or pairing up with brands to develop projects together? “We have found it critical to do both -- to pitch marketers with compelling concepts for their brands and products and develop relative content from scratch around the specific brand or their initiatives.”

Spacedog recently announced a deal with Fox Television Studios to produce a series of graphic novels that could be turned into TV shows and other forms of entertainment. Why start with graphic novels? “A tremendous advantage of the graphic novel format is how successfully it has crossed over all media. So while the graphic novel represents a starting off point, the goal is to extend the property to television, film, video games, wireless content, etc. We have already had success with ‘The Covenant,’ a graphic novel we published with Top Cow that Screen Gems has produced as a feature film with Renny Harlin directing, and ‘Proximity Effect,’ which Universal will be producing as a feature.”

How will the brands fit in? “Branded entertainment in graphic novels only works for specific brands. For ‘Revved’ and Mazda and its groundbreaking Zoom Zoom campaign, graphic novels and their target demo was a perfect fit. ['Revved' is the first of three comics from Top Cow to tell the story of four magical vehicles. Mazda's RX-8 sports car apppears in the first issue.] We took a product with a history and an established fan base and presented it through an entirely new lens to create an absolutely eye-popping visual. But, really, the story was a direct extension of the brand's look and feel. Not only does this format provide a thoroughly unique visual but it also leaves the consumer with a tangible and valuable ongoing reminder of the product. The Fox Television Studio deal was simply a byproduct of great storytelling. For any campaign like this to work, there needs to be relevant content at the core. With ‘Revved,’ Fox acquired a property that, above all, resonated with a specific audience.”

Has the integration into a graphic novel been difficult to sell to marketers? Why or why not? “Our partnership with Top Cow has been a significant advantage in making this almost an easy sell to marketers. A critical element to the success of the graphic novel is its credibility to the audience. Our partnership with Top Cow ensures that the story never crosses the line to becoming overly commercial.”

Did it help that BMW had already published a series of comic books for its Web series "The Hire"? “While ‘The Hire’ might be a wonderful series, it feels more like a licensing deal to me and I find it to be almost completely irrelevant to our business. I consider ‘Revved’ to be groundbreaking due to the level of equity and collaboration Mazda has had in the process. Beyond everything else, all the audience really cares about at the end of the day is if it’s a good story.”

What will brands get out of appearing in a graphic novel? And will that brand be secured a place in the property when it moves to other formats? “It is important again to note that this is appropriate mainly for like brands; brands that fit the target demographic for the property. By associating themselves with our projects, brands will get relevant integration into a pop culture format reaching an elusive and desirable audience.”

How do you measure the success of a branded-entertainment project? “On any project we first and foremost prioritize specific goals, objectives and calls to action. Quite often with branded entertainment we can link success to specific metrics like database entries and even sales. However, in many cases branded entertainment is an opportunity to further develop a dialog with the consumer. Traditional media tends to lock that dialogue down to 30-second spots or 8 1/2 by 11 still images. Most of what Spacedog categorizes as branded entertainment represents almost unfettered access to the target demographic.”

There is still some confusion as to what branded entertainment actually is. How do you define it? “The reason there is confusion about what branded entertainment actually is, is because branded entertainment doesn’t actually mean anything yet. The one thing that is absolutely true is that traditional advertising and marketing is changing forever and that there is a mandate for marketers to start thinking outside the box. To Spacedog, branded entertainment simply represents those creative campaigns and concepts that allow marketers new and, in many cases, improved ways to reach their audience. Our focus on the definition has always incorporated relevance to the brand and its customers as well as meaningful impact.”

What are the best examples of branded entertainment you've seen lately? “I think ‘The Apprentice’ has done a fantastic job of integrating brands in a way that actually makes sense and yet showcase the brand in a positive light. But maybe, most importantly, they have quantifiable success to show for it. Just ask Pontiac.”

And the worst? “[In ‘Alias’] Jennifer Garner is chasing a bad guy who runs into a parking structure. He's getting away in a stolen Ford Mustang. Jennifer turns to her partner, points to a car they will need to steal in order to give chase and yells, ‘There! The Ford F-150!’ Pretty much any example that rips you out of the moment and makes you feel like you're in a commercial.”

What are some obstacles branded entertainment still faces? “I believe that the experiences and the backlash associated to the hype of the [Internet] bubble is still fresh in many people’s minds. Maybe the biggest obstacle branded entertainment faces is to define its role and relevance within an overall marketing strategy. Again, I question the value of buzz for buzz sake. Buzz needs to be a factor in part of a larger vision.”

What's a valuable lesson you've learned developing these types of projects? “Sometimes I feel guilty using cliche buzzwords, but the most valuable lesson Spacedog has learned through developing these types of projects has been the power of integration. The Paris Hilton campaign Spacedog did with Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s is a fantastic example of the power of properly blending different tactics such as interactive, PR, in-store and traditional marketing and advertising.”

What's on your TiVo? “‘Boston Legal,’ and anything starring William Shatner; ‘Lost,’ and anything starring Evangeline Lilly; and any sporting event featuring any of the following teams: the New York Rangers, New York Knicks, New York Mets, New York Giants. Can you guess where I’m from?”

What's on your iPod? “I am terrified to actually own an iPod. At that point I really would have no life.”

Since you have an interest in graphic novels, what is your favorite? “I know I'm biased, but Top Cow’s ‘The Darkness,’ written by Garth Ennis and penciled by Marc Silvestri, is just so cool.”

What do you do on your downtime? “What downtime? With the splinters of time I have available these days I do the best I can to spend it with my family.”