Having dealt with many of the issues relating to the channels and techniques that marketers employ to engage consumers, my sense of being at this inflection point is driven by the degree to which the "convergence game" is defined as a broad, all media and content approach, vs. a narrow view that approaches entertainment as a tactical promotional platform only.
To be clear, there's a lot I like about where things stand. I like the fact that big-time players like Coke and General Motors are asking the right questions and setting the bar high while creating a path for the industry. I like the fact that there's a healthy dialogue in progress regarding the issue of hard measurement vs. "gut" calls (the answer lies somewhere in between, of course) and I'm encouraged to see a growing realization that no single capability, whether it be content developer, content distributor, talent agency or advertising agency, can do it all. This is all good.
On the other hand, from what I see, marketing-through-entertainment is headed in a troublesome direction. It's troublesome because it seems far too narrow. Call it what you like, but I believe that the clear emphasis on product-placement deals in movies and TV is a very limited definition of this nascent business. %%PULLQUOTE_RIGHT%% Frankly, any reasonable observer of the dynamics of the business today has to see that most of the marketing world is chasing a handful of product-placement deals. This is problematic and limiting to the business simply because there just aren't enough bona fide "hits" to go around. By the way, I'm not disparaging product-placement as a tool; I just believe that its marketing potential from a standpoint of the sponsor is overrated.
By the way, the excessive emphasis on film deals is being increasingly abetted by "wannabes" attempting to exploit this glamorous hot button. The "wannabes" are those whose main values lie in limited, often superficial, relationships in Hollywood or on Madison Avenue, rather than possession of the skills and experience needed to craft and leverage an entertainment idea.
But, as I said at the outset, there is a second path that can lead to a new scale for marketing-through-entertainment and a permanent place at the table of valuable channel options. I see the following as key principles in getting there.
- Consider partnering. Sponsors whose needs are strategically aligned can often put more in front of the consumer at a better return for their marketing dollar by co-funding an effort and then running their individual promotion programs off the common content base. For example, Chevrolet and Coke sponsored the 2000 Olympic Torch Run. This was a great alliance built around a powerful consumer touch point.
- Develop more proprietary content. There's a huge amount of untapped potential to this approach. In this model, a brand can either be embedded in the content, such as the now famous BMW Films initiative, or tied to it, as in the Anheuser-Busch project with Kevin Spacey's Trigger Street filmmaker's program. Marketers know that there is measurable value in offering consumers a unique and compelling experience that they, the marketers, can control in terms of potency and scale.
- Focus more on initiatives that are scaleable and repeatable because promotional calendars and planning cycles demand programs that have proven effectiveness. To date, only the sports business has consistently provided examples of highly scaleable and repeatable partnerships so there's still work to be done here. While one could argue that TV and film are ephemeral by nature and thus don't lend themselves to this, there are some properties (e.g. "Matrix") and programs (Emmys, Tribeca Film Festival et. al.) that have an evergreen quality to them that creates opportunities for broader marketing relationships.
- Respect the value of process. While marketing-and-entertainment convergence is certainly driven by ideas and creativity, a respect for process, particularly from the channel/content side, is needed to turn ideas into actions. Many of the failed relationships I've seen to date were primarily a function of poor or no process, or, of course, over-promising and under-delivering.
The principles that will spur the growth of marketing-through-entertainment are wrapped around building sustainable, controllable, and ownable brand-integration franchises that either enhance a brand's position or cause a consumer to act. Not coincidentally, these are pretty much the same principles that guide marketers in managing their brands, and their absence in many of the early efforts at leveraging the power and reach of Hollywood explains why Madison and Vine haven't yet truly converged. Hopefully, the best is yet to come.
Phil Guarascio, 56, retired in 2000 after serving 17 years as the VP-general manager, marketing and advertising for General Motors' North American operations, controlling one of the largest sponsorship and advertising budgets in the United States. Currently, Guarascio serves as a senior adviser to the William Morris Agency and the National Football League.