Why you need to know him: Conductor, which produced the popular “Evan and Gareth” Web series for Unilever’s Axe brand, recently recruited Mr. Walter to develop and produce branded entertainment projects. Mr. Walter, who has worked in both advertising and entertainment, recently produced TV series and specials for brands such as The North Face and Unilever’s Degree.
|Ron Walter, the new executive creative director of Conductor, is best known for his work as executive producer of 'The North Face Expeditions.'
Credentials: Mr. Walter most recently was a partner and creative director at Banjo, a San Francisco-based TV production company, where he created and executive produced “The North Face Expeditions,” a TV series hosted by Sting that ran on NBC; Unilever's “Degree Road to Iron Man,” an hour-long special that ran on NBC Sports and Bravo; and a recent series of six theatrical and online teaser trailers for “From Russia With Love,” the James Bond video game from Electronic Arts. Prior to Banjo, Mr. Walter started his own agency, Blazing Paradigm, where he created both programming and multimedia advertising for clients including The North Face, Whole Foods Markets and Ziff Davis Publishing. He also held positions at Hal Riney & Partners and Goodby Silverstein & Partners, where he produced award-winning work for clients including Saturn automobiles and Foster Farms Chicken. He has also directed TV commercials and industrials.
Conductor calls itself a "brand storytelling company," which uses screenwriting and character development instead of copywriting and short-term ad strategies. What does that really mean? “We believe in the power that stories have in making meaningful and lasting connections. We think of consumers as an audience, and audiences are loyal if you continue to surprise and delight them. And as we like to say, ‘Would you rather hear a sales pitch or listen to a story?’”
Who are Conductor’s clients? “Unilever, the National Hockey League, most of the Hollywood studios, and two major food companies we can’t yet announce.”
What are some of the most recent branded entertainment concepts you've produced? A Web series about a fictitious spy school for EA’s launch of ‘From Russia With Love,’ the video game, and a TV show about Ironman athletes for Unilever’s Degree Deodorant.”
And Conductor? The company, run by Tim Tennant, Conductor’s CEO, and Tom Cotton, president, have produced the Web series “Evan and Gareth” for Unilever’s Axe brand, which has been viewed more than 3 million times to date. It also launched the "My NHL" campaign to re-introduce the National Hockey League in 2005 after a labor dispute cost the league and entire season, and projects for Ford Motor Co. and the Coca-Cola Co.
How has your background in both entertainment and advertising helped you in the branded entertainment space? “Solving problems in both the entertainment and advertising arenas is key to success in this space. And it’s a big reason I joined Conductor. ... We’ve got a pretty impressive collective history here of solving problems for both content and product marketers.”
What lessons have you learned while doing these projects? “I always ask myself ‘Would I watch this?’ It was different making ads, this question didn’t apply. I don’t do anything that I wouldn’t actively seek out and watch.”
What elements make for good branded entertainment? “A great story! It’s all about the story.”
How do you measure success? “Did the audience laugh or cry or feel whatever the emotion we wanted them to feel? And did the viewers evangelize the work, and the message? When it comes to metrics, we combine our own model with our clients’ and establish goals at the outset.”
What are some challenges that still exist when producing branded entertainment? “Clients are a lot smarter about all this now, which is great. For folks new to it, understanding the different role and life cycle of branded entertainment vs. traditional advertising is one challenge. Another is realizing how critical it is to support the launch of branded content the same way studios support film launches ... that is, you can’t just put it out there and assume people will find it.”
Will there be one format -- TV, movies, video games, music, short films on the Web, mobile content -- that eventually wins out over another as the medium for branded entertainment? “It’s all about giving the consumer choices, and inviting them into your stories in the way they want to consume and share them. This is the really exciting part of what we are doing. Distribution changes so quickly. Very exciting time to be in the creative industry. ”
What are some of the best examples of branded entertainment that you've liked? “FedEx in 'Castaway' because it was pure. Axe’s Evan and Gareth online reality show -- yes, Conductor did that. And Burger King’s Chicken Fight because of the use of media.”
And the worst? “That GTO made-for-TV movie [USA Networks’ ‘The Last Ride’].”
There is still some confusion out there as to what branded entertainment actually is. How do you define it? “When a brand pays for it.”
What's on your iPod? “Miles Davis, Cream, Sergio Mendez and the Brazil 66, and Glen Campbell.”
What's on your TiVo “‘Deadwood,’ ‘24,’ ‘Entourage,’ ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ ‘Roller Girls.’”
What do you do on your downtime? “Looking at the world through my 5-year-old son’s eyes reinforces my desire to do what I am doing. He’s making sense of the world through story. So no matter how advanced we get with technology it still comes down to really engaging with life, and stories are how we do that.”