Aspect Picks Cotton To Sow Brand Partnerships

DDB exec joins Tennant as president

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%%STORYIMAGE_RIGHT%% Tom Cotton, one of Omnicom Group's leading branded entertainment evangelists, is leaving his post as president-North America, of Omnicom Group's DDB Integrated Solutions Group. He is joining forces with Tim Tennant, the CEO of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Aspect, a collection of strategic and creative services companies for film and TV studios and producers. As president of The Aspect Group, the portal to the suite of companies, Cotton's charge will be to leverage his Madison Avenue and entertainment contacts to raise the bar on Aspect's branded-content offerings. Cotton and Tennant chatted with Madison+Vine about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

MV:Tell me how your business model is evolving as it relates to branded entertainment and how Tom's arrival fits in.

TT: It has become very important for studios to think about advertising relationships beyond product placement. We as a company find ourselves helping numerous studios define a movie property for their efforts in locating and signing up a brand to be involved in that movie. So we create storyboards, reels that communicate the brand attributes of their movies to an advertiser in a way that is more strategic than the old days when they would come in and just say, "Script is about this, it has following star and following director, and we think it's opening in July 2005." The next iteration is being helpful with brands and their relationships to content, making sure they're making relevant choices and leveraging the property in a way that goes beyond the six weeks before a movie opens or the launch of a TV show. The consumer has to see the relevance between a brand product and brand experience and a piece of content.

TC: If you can be a strategic partner in the middle helping to plot the roadmap for win-wins, you're in a good place. In some cases, it's lopsided and somebody comes out the other end of the partnership feeling like their investment, time, and money was not worth it. We're going to up the odds of that not happening.

MV: Because the studios are still slavishly devoted to tentpoles and franchise films while upping the ante on production, marketing and distribution costs, it sounds like brands don't feel like they're getting as much ROI as they're used to for what they're asked to contribute in terms of media dollars.

TT: The [studio] marketing departments are not responsible for the success or failure of the brand's relationship to the movie. They facilitate the best they can within parameters of what they can control. But an advertiser needs a company like ours that is already on the inside and trusted by studios to work the way they're used to working. The problem is they make the deal and then hope they can find the creative solution to make it work vs. the other way around.

MV: Do you see smaller films, say in the $10 million to 50 million range, as unmined opportunities for brands?

TC: I can tell you that we have pursued films with $10 million to $20 million total production and marketing budgets on behalf of brands. It's harder and you'll have less-experienced people on all sides of the equation but you could also be a little below the noise and we have pursued that.

MV: The enlightened ones realize that product placement doesn't even necessarily have to be in the mix. It's about integrated marketing. That message in many cases seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

TC: I wouldn't say it's fallen on deaf ears. I think an increase in intent gets higher everyday. The awareness factor is there of both declining ROI and a broken system of traditional media getting to your consumer and making a difference. Certainly everyone is aware of that, and secondarily, all clients are becoming more hungry for entertainment-based solutions. They see it would be nice to not exclusively interrupt entertainment, but actually be entertainment. We have to create content that is a marketing-driving engine that people want, that they enjoy, that they invite in, that they talk to friends about. This is the Holy Grail. But how do you get there?

TT: For instance, if you look at Nike's cinema strategies where it was basically 60 seconds of experiential speed, and that the only thing that was Nike was the swoosh at the end. They got all leverage and emotion just by identifying that they were a part of that. Emotions of characters or movies or TV shows are the things that brands need to connect to. And it doesn't mean the brand has to be in the guy's hand.

TC: A fair analogue would be in promotion work. If you make a $1 commitment to the Olympics, for example, you had better be ready to have $3 or even $4 behind that in an integrated program to make that work. Only the most miraculous of integrations are going to work on their own with nothing behind it.

MV: What about other platforms like video gaming?

%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% TT: The gaming marketplace is now at a point where they're spending movie marketing budgets to launch major game franchises. And yes, these gaming companies are looking for integration of brands and there's a relevant space. How good the games are getting in terms of experience and interactivity are mind-blowing.

TC: The consumer is spending upward of twice on gaming than what they're spending on films. Product integration is following a similar trajectory in gaming as it did in television. The next iteration is how to get a client more upstream, involved strategically in the development and production of a game in a way that tells a story where the brand moves the story forward.

MV: Will content co-creation and equity revenue increasingly grow in importance within your company?

TT: Yes. We have a number of projects to package with brands: TV shows and small budget-movies that an advertiser could end up co-financing. There are all kinds of models that can be explored. And of course, for doing that, we will have participation.

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