Moving OfficeMax Aggressively Into Branded Entertainment

Mark Andeer Wants to Build on Success of Marketer's First Project

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Who: Mark Andeer, VP-brand strategy at OfficeMax

Why you need to know him: With a new management team in place, OfficeMax has very aggressive ideas about branded entertainment and wants to be a player, with plans to divert its TV ad budget -- some $2 million-plus annually -- into projects. Mr. Andeer is overseeing those efforts, which included its first, "Schooled," which aired commercial free on ABC Family during the important back-to-school selling season and featured some prominent OfficeMax integrations.
OfficeMax's VP-brand strategy, Mark Andeer: 'When used properly, branded entertainment is one of the best vehicles to engage consumers to change their behavior and ultimately to buy.'

The show played a "Punk'd"-style prank on a class of eighth graders, then rewarded them with a concert by teen pop star Jesse McCartney and $80,000 worth of school supplies. The deal involved partnerships with Google Video, Walt Disney Co.'s Hollywood Records and ABC Family. The marketer also recently launched 20 viral websites for the holidays that feature games and entertainment.

Credentials: Mr. Andeer began his career at D'Arsy Masius Benton & Bowles, Detroit, then headed south to Miami, where he worked for MTV as a graphic designer and helped launch a TV station for Barry Diller. He later moved to New York to work as an art director until heading up creative at BBDO, Minneapolis, where he worked before moving over to OfficeMax.

You told Madison & Vine recently that OfficeMax wants to be aggressive in branded entertainment. Why does an office-supply store want to be in this space? "I don't look at branded entertainment as category-specific. Anyone can be involved. What's more important is how you choose your project, no matter who the marketer is. When we produced 'Schooled,' we were very thoughtful about partnering with Jeffery Thomson at Disney, Rob Souriall from Hollywood Records and our consultant, Julie Mulholland at Mulholland Drive Entertainment. Working together, we linked Jesse McCartney with our target audience and had huge success for back to school."

Since you jumped right in -- funding "Schooled" and buying time to air it -- are you surprised that marketers are still hesitant to get involved in branded entertainment? "Not really. Even at the best of schools, marketing majors are being taught concepts that are decades old in a field that is changing weekly. Additionally, most companies would rather have everything their marketing department does be proven 100%, even if it does lead to mediocre results. There's still a fear out there of doing something that has little proof but a ton of logic, even though it can produce amazing results."

How did "Schooled" work out for the company? Did you feel like it was a big risk? Were you pleased with the result? "Thanks to the people at Google, we were one of the top retailers in online traffic growth during the back-to-school season. The number of impressions between Disney and Google for the money spent was another reason this effort has proven itself out. Risk tends to be another word for fear in this field. This effort just made sense." [Traffic to the OfficeMax website jumped between 10% and 20% during the six-week promotional period.]

How did you measure success on that project? How will you measure it in general? "Sales. [OfficeMax showed a 1% sales bump during the quarter "Schooled" aired. The company had been down for four consecutive years; it was down 3% during the year-ago period.] This helped us swing it the other way. It got the momentum going in the right direction."

OfficeMax took its TV budget and reallocated it for branded entertainment. Will that strategy continue? "OfficeMax is committed to be a leader in communicating with consumers in the most engaging ways possible. When used properly, branded entertainment is one of the best vehicles to engage consumers to change their behavior and ultimately to buy."

How important is it to have partnerships for branded-entertainment projects? "I touched on it a bit earlier, but without a killer team of very savvy marketing minds, you might as well pack it up and go back to hiding behind numbers in the proven world. You'll be better off. It all starts with an idea, which came from Norm Bilow and Vinny Warren at DDB, Chicago, OfficeMax's agency. Mulholland Drive Entertainment helped shepherd this project through the twists and turns that inevitably happen when breaking new ground. And I would be really missing if I didn't mention my partner on this project at OfficeMax, Chris Duncan. Oh, and God. You have to thank God."

Do you have your next branded-entertainment project picked out? "Yes. Oh, wait, the lawyer just called. Looks like we're exploring our options."

Consumers are becoming more aware about brand integrations and branded entertainment. Do you expect pushback from audiences about these projects in general? "Consumers get it more than most companies do. Ask anyone on the street what their favorite commercial is. Some will say the 'Wasssup!' commercial, which is 30 seconds of branded entertainment. So I think there's less pushback than, say, your average shove-the-product-down-the-consumer's-throat TV commercial."

There's still a lot of debate over exactly what branded entertainment is. What's your definition? "Entertainment that changes people’s behavior to purchase a product or service."

What are the best examples of branded entertainment you've seen lately? "I love the scene in 'Sideways' where Paul Giamatti goes off about pinot noir. Sales of pinot shot up after that. How much would the leaders in each category benefit from a scene like that?"

And the worst? "Can't think of any off the top of my head, but I'm sure they are being created as I speak."

What are some obstacles branded entertainment still faces? "Soon the same flat-footed types that have killed the 30-second spot will be on to branded entertainment and it will be time to move on to something else."

What's on your TiVo? "The 'Head On' commercial."

What do you do with your downtime? "I like to paint, draw, play guitar, date supermodels and practice Brazilian jujitsu. OK, one of those isn't true."