From the Madison & Vine Conference

AmEx Plans Jerry Seinfeld-Meets-Superman Internet Show

CMO Also Announces Other Branded Entertainment Initiatives

By Published on .

LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- In a move that further lifts its reputation as a pioneer in the field of branded entertainment marketing, American Express will launch a new show on the Internet starring Jerry Seinfeld, according to chief marketing officer John Hayes.

American Express' chief marketing officer, John Hayes, was the keynote speaker at the Madison + Vine conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

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Beverly Hills Hotel
The announcement was made before a capacity crowd during Mr. Hayes' keynote address at the second annual Advertising Age Madison + Vine conference in the Rodeo Ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hotel this morning. The one-day event, attended by marketing, advertising and entertainment executives who gathered for seminars and talks, explored the latest developments in the rapidly evolving branded entertainment business.

"Branded entertainment" is a term used to describe projects that combine the marketing methods of Madison Avenue with the entertainment content of Hollywood and Vine. Advertising Age coined the term "Madison + Vine" to identify this marketing segment that is the focus of this annual conference as well as its weekly Madision + Vine newsletter.

American Express has long been a pioneer in this area.

Music & marketing
In a 1999 milestone mixing marketing and pop music that helped define the new genre, American Express organized a Sheryl Crow concert in New York's Central Park as the linchpin of its Blue Card launch promotion. In what it dubbed a "trimulcast," the company turned the concert into a national event by simultaneously broadcasting it live on Fox, Westwood One and the Internet.

More recently, American Express, along with Coors and Mitsubishi, backed the NBC reality show The Restaurant, chronicling the behind-the-scenes drama and chaos of a Manhattan restaurant's opening and ongoing operation.

Seinfeld 'Webisodes'
American Express now is preparing to launch "Seinfeld Webisodes," a series of five-minute video programs viewable exclusively on AmericanExpress.com, Mr. Hayes said. The series will feature Mr. Seinfeld in live action and Superman as an animated character.

Mr. Seinfeld has been the centerpiece of the company's TV advertising since the early '90s. Some of the most memorable commercials from that Ogilvy & Mather campaign featured Mr. Seinfeld humorously using the card at the grocery store or the gas station.

Mr. Hayes said American Express has dramatically altered its marketing communications strategies and continues to place ever more emphasis on the emerging technologies, such as the Web, that have changed audience consumption patterns.

'Why the Web?'
"Why the Web?" he asked. "Because it has already proven to be a primary [audience and customer] acquisition channel for the future."

"With more homes having access to high-speed Internet services, younger people are spending a larger amount of their time surfing the Web, instant-messaging with their friends and using e-mail," he said.

Mr. Hayes also announced a film project being funded by American Express to be produced with Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and directed by Wes Anderson (The Royal Tennenbaums). It features a look at American culture through the eyes of humorist and author Fran Lebowitz. A 2005 release is planned.

Critical of TV
Mr. Hayes was critical of the speed and effectiveness with which TV has adapted -- or failed to adapt -- to new market realities and indicated his company has made a fundamental shift away from that medium.

"As the current 2003-04 television season got under way in September," he explained, "it became apparent to the networks and the advertisers that something was amiss, if not simply missing young men. ... The bottom line is that the traditional network television business is in enormous transition. The next-generation media consumer will redefine the new rules even before they are written, leaving marketers and communications companies more challenged than ever before."

He said that in 1994 American Express devoted nearly 80% of its advertising media-buying budget to TV. Today, 10 years later, company ad spending for TV has fallen to 35% of its media-buying budget.

"We have moved out of the 'buying' world and [have] entered the world of content and channel integration in a significant way," he said.

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Hank Kim is the editor of Advertising Age's 'Madison + Vine' weekly newsletter.

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