The Key to Great Branded Content? Collaboration

At Venice Festival of Media, Experts Discuss Survival in 'Upside Down' World

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VENICE, Italy (AdAge.com) -- "We live in an age of maximum paranoia and minimum clarity," declared consultant Michael Kassan at the Venice Festival of Media today, where he chaired a panel of six experts who discussed the role of media agencies in branded content, the significance of user-generated content, and the constant struggle to find and implement great branded-content ideas.
Wenda Harris Millard
Photo: Yahoo

Wenda Harris Millard

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Different expectations
"The world has turned upside down," said Wenda Harris Millard, chief sales officer of Yahoo. "We need collaboration with the agencies to take consumer insight and apply it -- expectations and behavior are very different on the internet from TV and print."

And how to collaborate is key. Mitch Kanner, CEO of 2 Degrees Ventures, said, "The key aspect is advertising, which has developed a large infrastructure around the consumer. If only you could blend a strategic planner with a writer from advertising and a writer or producer from the studio side, but it's never happened. There's a wall between them."

"Branded entertainment became part of the solution early on. It wasn't a guess, it came out of analytics," said Peter Tortorici, chairman-CEO of Group M Entertainment. "An idea on its own is just an idea, it needs to be put together with information about target behavior and developed into a narrative."

Dove effort was winner
One narrative done well, according to the panelists, was Dove's "calming night" campaign, which created an online community around iconic housewives. The effort was repeatedly cited by the panelists as an outstanding example of branded content. "It is one of the great marketing stories of the decade and has made Dove into a cultural phenomena," Mr. Kassan said.

David Sable, vice chairman and chief operating officer of Wunderman, said, "Relevancy is critical. So much work is done that's not relevant; it's just done for the sake of a channel or a technology or just because we are able to do it. You need to start with the data, look at the end result you want to achieve, and then find interesting, relevant ways to get to that result."

Asked about the potential for disintermediation (the latest parlance for "cutting out") of agencies, Ms. Harris Millard said, "Agencies have the ability to reach and connect with an audience and be passionate about the brand. Any sophisticated media company understands why a client pays an agency. It's for insight. I don't see us as competitive but as co-dependent. I am more passionate about the advertising business than ever. I am not a 'frenemy.' I'm a real friend."

Two roles at once
The "frenemy" term was a reference to a speech yesterday by Dominic Proctor, CEO of MindShare Worldwide, who talked about the tension of collaboration and competition between media, marketers, agencies, consultants and other suppliers, who play the role of friends and enemies at the same time.

Talking about the disintermediation issue, Wunderman's Mr. Sable said, "We understand that it's not just about what you can do, but about what the consumer wants."

Mr. Kassan, the consultant, pulled the discussion around to user-generated content. "The elephant in the room is the consumer," he said. "The toothpaste is out of the tube in the world of user-generated content." He noted that "99% of user-generated content is trash."

But Mr. Sable insisted that there has always been user-generated content, in that the consumer has always spoken. "You gotta go with the flow," he said, "but the Wild West is getting corralled. You have to have standards and practices; it will have to be more controlled. You need to give consumers the tools to manage the right way to be relevant to them, and not be afraid to say you're there to sell."
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