An Interview With MindShare Entertainment's David Lang

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Who: David Lang, senior partner, director of programming, MindShare Entertainment, a unit of WPP Group's MindShare Worldwide.
David Lang, who has been at MindShare for a year, previously produced the 'Lassie Dog Training' series that was sold in Wal-Mart.

Why you need to know him: A year after he joined MindShare Entertainment, Mr. Lang has helped produce the division’s first branded entertainment projects for two Unilever brands, Axe and Dove.

Credentials: Mr. Lang joined MindShare Entertainment in February 2005. Before that, he was at Lorne Michaels' Broadway Video for seven years, the last three as senior VP, development and production. He was a creator and executive producer-show runner for a wide variety of networks, including ESPN, Bravo, USA, VH1, Nickelodeon, Food Network and the History Channel. Mr. Lang was also a producer of “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” for which he won an Emmy Award. Prior to that, he worked for Al Burton Prods/Universal Television; freelanced as a network sports producer; and had his own company, DL Productions, where he created, produced and marketed the home-video series “The Lassie Dog Training System” that was sold across multiple platforms (Wal-Mart, PetSmart, QVC, direct response, etc). The success of that entrepreneurial venture led to his gig at Broadway Video.

What are some of the most recent branded entertainment concepts you've produced? “I just passed my one-year anniversary at MindShare and celebrated it with the launch of our first two projects. One was a 30-minute prime-time television special, "Exposing the Order of the Serpentine," which we developed and produced. It debuted on Spike TV Feb. 23. Funded by Unilever's Axe for its Snake Peel Shower Gel, the show is an expose about a sacred brotherhood whose purpose is to help young men get over the shame of their questionable hookups. The show was the centerpiece of the product launch. After it aired, a full advertising campaign rolled out that included print, TV and on-campus media programs.

"Our second project, which debuted the same week, was a trio of high-profile Webisodes starring Academy Award-nominee Felicity Huffman [‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Transamerica’] and directed by Penny Marshall. The Webisodes were the centerpiece for the launch of the Dove Calming Night product line. We wanted to talk to mothers in a unique and humorous way. So we sent Felicity back in time to ask some of the universal questions mothers have and get the answers from TV’s most iconic maternal characters -- June Cleaver, Carol Brady, and for a little extra fun, Lily Munster. A friend of mine and I created the idea and it has been an absolute blast to produce for the client. In addition to the Webisodes, MindShare Entertainment produced a lot of other pieces of content for the launch, from a movie-style trailer and a radio spot to the tops and bottoms of [the commercial, from Mindshare sibling Ogilvy & Mathe], which ends with a direct call to action from Felicity for people to go to the Web and view the Webisodes [at].”

In terms of branded entertainment, what do you think makes these innovative? “Concerning the Axe project, the innovation is that we produced a really funny piece of long-form entertainment to reach the Axe target demo in a unique way. In addition, we made it possible for our client to own and control its content and messaging, which is not something a media agency has traditionally done. As the centerpiece of the campaign launch, the concept was activated across multiple platforms. We were integrated with the entire inter-agency team to make the impact as powerful and cost-efficient as possible.

"With Dove, the innovation was across the board. We used the Web to reach women in a way that we’ve never seen done before and created a unique experience for consumers. We were able to accomplish this because of the creative idea, its execution, as well as from findings uncovered from research conducted by one of our units, MindShare Interaction. They found that moms use the Web for a lot of things, one of which was to be entertained and to relax. We made content that makes them laugh and that’s also relevant to their lives.”

What elements make for good branded entertainment? “At MindShare Entertainment, we judge ourselves on three main areas: First it has to be a great idea and it has to be on brand. That sounds basic but we get pitched an amazing number of good ideas that are not focused on a brand’s strategic content. Second, the execution. We are very careful about the team we put together in executing any idea. Because of the background in television that my boss [Peter Tortorici] and I bring to the table, we feel we are uniquely positioned to bring the right talent and creatives together in helping us execute a project for our clients. And finally, the value or ROI. We sit down with clients at the beginning of a project and talk with them about their objectives and then build a plan to measure and achieve those objectives.”

How do you measure success? “It’s all based on the three key areas I just mentioned.”

What are some challenges that still exist when producing branded entertainment? “First and foremost, it’s extremely complicated because there are so many elements involved. They call it the cross-section of Madison Ave. and Hollywood, I call it more the colliding of the two worlds. The processes, the expectations, the business models are all so different. But when you can bring the right idea together with the right team and execute it across the right platforms, the results can be amazing.”

This is your first job working within a media agency. What have you learned about the challenges of bringing marketers into entertainment since working in an agency? “I think that being inside MindShare is the best place to be in order to bring branded entertainment projects to life. That being said, I think a big part of my job in the first year has been educating marketers as to the process and wide variety of opportunities available to them. It’s not just about product placement anymore.”

There is still some confusion out there as to what branded entertainment actually is. “Yes. I think a lot of people lump the notion of branded entertainment together with product placement. While product placement is one possible execution, it’s just one small part of what it can be.”

How do you define it? “In a very basic definition, it’s compelling entertainment that maps to a marketer’s brand in an organic and authentic manner and engages their target consumer. This ‘entertainment’ can take many forms and should live across many different platforms.”

What's on your iPod? “Oh my, a wide variety. I love music. It’s very important in my life. I have everything from the Beatles and Sting to Alicia Keys and James Taylor.”

What's on your TiVo? “‘Desperate Housewives,’ ‘Alias’ and a ton of shows for my kids.”

What do you do on your downtime? “Spend time with my wife and play with my kids, ages 6 and 3 1/2. There’s nothing better in the world.”

You were raised in California, educated at UCLA. In college and early on in your career, you focused on sports. Any highlights? “Sports is really my first love. While at UCLA, I was sports director of its radio station, KLA, and also sports editor of its paper, The Daily Bruin. I had the great fortune of doing play-by-play for two full sessions of UCLA football and basketball home-and-away games. I also got to announce a couple of Rose Bowls and an NCAA Tournament. To be 22 years old, sitting half-court at Pauley Pavilion announcing their games, it just doesn’t get any better than that!”

You’ve lived on both coasts now, in Los Angeles for several years before moving to New York. Which do you prefer? Why? “I love the Bay Area where I grew up, but the entertainment industry is either in New York or L.A. So if I had to choose between New York or L.A, I would choose New York. I love the city and the smoked salmon and delis are much better!”