Lessons from Madison + Vine

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It's that time again. After the first six months of 2005, Madison & Vine evaluated the five best and worst branded-entertainment deals. Now that the year's done and over with, it's time to look at what worked and what didn't during the second half.

THE 5 BEST

1. The deal: Harvey and Bob Weinstein secure a $25 million investment from WPP for first-look projects.

Why it worked: WPP's clients such as American Express, Procter & Gamble, Nokia, IBM and Rolex will have early access to film, TV, Internet, DVD, book or other projects developed by the legendary Hollywood hit-makers. The Weinsteins, meanwhile, will be able to make deals with WPP clients or any other advertisers they choose; they are not exclusive to the WPP roster. Sounds like the best of both worlds.

Bottom line: Giant ad holding companies, with scores of blue chip marketers in the fold, are looking for fresh new ways to get those clients in front of consumers. Give them a viable avenue and they just might take it.

2. The deal: PepsiCo's Mountain Dew produces action-sports and music-driven films beginning with the documentary "First Descent."

Why it worked: The PG-13 rated documentary (produced with Embassy Row and distributed by Universal Pictures) aimed squarely at the caffeinated soda's prime 18-24-year-old male target. It traced the history of snowboarding and was created for about the same price as a 30-second TV spot. A key component was to brand itself subtly, for fear of turning off that ad-averse young demographic. Mountain Dew logos were visible on gear and clothing, but did not show up in any of the film's marketing. Nor was Mountain Dew the only drink in "First Descent."

Bottom line: "First Descent" could serve as a model for other marketers, who might come to see the halo effect of quality, well-targeted branded entertainment, regardless of its financial payback.

3. The deal: Pepsi's "100 Concerts in 100 Days" Web series following the antics of Dave Offenheiser and Adam Shapiro as they travel the country and attend concerts.

Why it worked: The impressive scale of the series that aired on Pepsi Smash, the online music and entertainment channel the company launched with Yahoo Music, was produced with the House of Blues and Embassy Row. For 100 days, two-minute daily Web- isodes documented Dave and Shappy's exploits and were accompanied by journal entries, reviews of shows, message boards, interviews and photos. But it almost didn't work: There was very little advertising off of the main Yahoo Music site. Pepsi relied mainly on word-of-mouth to attract an audience, limiting its reach.

Bottom line: Brands have played it safe in the past, producing a handful of short films, but never a Web series as extensive as Pepsi's music road trip.

4. The deal: Universal snags A-list marketing partners for "King Kong."

Why it shouldn't have worked: Period films usually don't appeal to marketing partners because there's no opportunity for product placement. For his remake of "King Kong," multiple Oscar-winner Peter Jackson set his version in the 1930s, just like the black-and-white original, and used no modern products.

Bottom line: All told, marketing partners including MasterCard, VW's Tourareg and Burger King spent some $100 million on advertising, promotions and other hype around "King Kong." That's not a record-not even close. Studio tent-pole movies often attract big brands willing to spend mightily and hoping, in return, to cash in on the buzz. The difference here is that the partners made the best use of the unique talent at hand-in this case, Mr. Jackson and team to help create the promotions-and trusted that those instincts were on target. The results were smart and clever.

5. The deal: Toyota's Prius hybrid sedan makes cameo in the final six minutes of HBO's drama "Six Feet Under."

Why it worked: During a sentimental montage that wraps up what happens to each of the show's lead characters after a five-year run, one of them, Claire Fisher, is shown behind the wheel of a Prius on her way to start a new life in New York City. The sequence also represents the character moving forward, which is part of Toyota's brand positioning and fit with Claire's character, who angrily berates owners of gas guzzling SUVs in earlier episodes. Furthermore, the image will live on through repeated airings on HBO, potential syndication and on DVD.

Bottom line: The poster child for alternative fuel vehicles, Prius is smartly using entertainment and its relationships with celebrities to land prime placements. It's been written into the plots of shows like "The West Wing." Larry David drives one on HBO's comedy "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and Prius also served as an alternative limo at the Academy Awards.

THE 5 WORST

1. The deal: Hollywood union members call for product-placement code of conduct.

What they want: The Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America have crashed several conferences, threatened to call in the FCC, issued position papers, and singled out reality shows such as "The Apprentice" as egregious examples of blatant shilling. The unions want actors, writers and other behind-the-scenes talent to have a voice in how, or even if, products will be embedded into TV shows and films. They also want their financial share.

Bottom line: Hollywood, because of rising costs of producing entertainment, continues to look toward the ad community for help in funding shows. Those marketers, aware that their ad dollars are buying fewer consumers on TV, want to be part of the entertainment experience instead of just surrounding it. Interrupting high-profile business conferences, especially while dressed as The Donald, can generate a decent amount of attention and press coverage. But that won't make product placement go away.

2. The deal: Dairy Queen sponsors task in "The Apprentice" for contestants to create mascot for its Blizzard product.

Why it didn't work: Neither a Dairy Queen store, nor the Blizzard product, was ever shown during the episode, greatly lessening the impact of the sponsorship and exposure of the brand and product. Dairy Queen saved itself with a contest around "The Apprentice" tie-in, which hired the winner as a Dairy Queen Blizzard apprentice, and awarded them $50,000, a role in a national TV spot, trips and the chance to create new Blizzard flavors.

Bottom line: If your company is spending a considerable amount of marketing dollars to sponsor an episode of a TV show, make sure that one of your stores or, at the very least, the product that you're promoting can be seen. Otherwise, what's the point?

3. The deal: General Motors sponsors an episode of "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart" to push its Buick Lucerne

Why it didn't work: In one episode, teams competed to design the best dealer showroom display for the 2006 Lucerne, and in the show's finale the winner won a Lucerne. But in the meantime, competing teams were shown being shuttled around in various new models from rival automaker Mercedes-Benz, and the finale saw finalists driven around town in sleek Maybach limos. Still, Buick did air commercials that invited consumers to attend a Lucerne V.I.P. Premiere Night at more than 600 dealerships. More than 50,000 attended, and 736,000 people visited Buick.com between the episode's airing and the event, a 365% increase.

Bottom line: There may only be room for only one car partner per season of a reality show. Multiple models from multiple companies only reduces the impact of the placement and can generate confusion.

4. The deal: ZenithOptimedia Group inks pact with The Firm for brand integrations

Why it didn't work: ZenithOptimedia went to a middleman. Many of ZenithOptimedia's clients, such as Verizon Wireless, Toyota and Hewlett-Packard are already successful players in the branded-entertainment space and have several companies brokering such deals. The Firm has relatively little experience brokering branded-entertainment deals and Chairman Rich Frank will be working single-handedly on the Zenith deal scouting for projects in development for places to embed brands, rather than designing projects from the ground up.

Bottom line: Some argue that good ideas can come from anyone at any company, so having multiple shops developing concepts for a single brand can help the marketer in the long run. That kind of relationship can only work if all parties act collegially, which is often easier said than done. Finding the right person to say yes to a project can be difficult. Getting that person to actually say yes is even harder. Add in multiple yes-men and you've got the reason why most branded-entertainment deals never materialize.

5. The deal: Nordstrom launches a branded-entertainment site called Silverscreen.com

Why it doesn't work: The site, from Fallon Worldwide, features music videos from `80s artists the Go-Go's and Culture Club with audio remixed by the likes of Fatboy Slim. To view it, surfers must download software for an interactive media player. E-mails went out to customers in Nordstrom's database inviting them to download the software. But why bother? The Silverscreen.com home page is the least dynamic, least hip site we've seen in quite some time. And if the target is current Nordstrom loyalists, the site misses them by using a strange amalgam of `80s icons and contemporary artists that seem to have nothing to do with the retailer.

Bottom line: We expected so much more from Fallon, who was behind groundbreaking short film projects for BMW and Amazon.com.

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