Madison + Vine: Content, commerce deals offer answers in overseas markets

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[london] Digital technology and consumer control have thrust advertisers into partnerships with entertainment companies in the U.S. But other forces are playing their part in driving the convergence of content and commerce around the world.

In Argentina, where the economy has fallen precipitously into the doldrums, branded content ideas are inspired by survival as much as by a commitment to innovation. Brazil is using product placements in TV shows to hype products for export to other countries. In Europe and in much of Asia, meanwhile, entertainment plays are often spurred by local media and demographic factors. In India, where consumers have less access to TV, the emphasis for marketers is on product placement in films. And in Germany, where rules forbid placement in regular TV shows, the action centers around agencies and advertisers creating ideas for program specials.

Ad spending is down 50% this year in Argentina. Broadcasters are having trouble paying for programs to fill their schedules, and Rodrigo Figueroa Reyes, Omnicom Group's DDB Argentina's ex-president and creative director is trying to leverage the dire circumstances to his advantage. To do so, Mr. Figueroa Reyes recently quit to start with DDB's backing Fire Advertainment, owned 60% by him and 40% by the agency.

Fire's first two clients, TV network Canal 9 and Sacoa Entertainment, Argentina's largest chain of video game arcades, are already working together. In addition to creating a weekly entertainment show built around Sacoa's games, Fire has also brokered a deal for spots and plot placement on "Rebelde Way" ("Rebel Way"), a youth soap opera that airs weeknights on Canal 9. Sacoa will be written into the script so that part of the popular soap will unfold at its arcades.

ancillary benefits

The deal with "Rebelde Way" is expected to have ancillary benefits for the Sacoa brand as well. It will be associated with a hit show and its four protagonists who are making a splash off-screen with a pop band whose debut album recently went to the top of the charts.

To extend the buzz, Fire is creating a promotion for Sacoa using the "Rebelde Way" stars. Sacoa will sell prepaid Sacoa "Rebelde Way" cards that kids can buy for credits to play games at its arcades, and for a chance to win prizes. "Rebelde Way" stars will adorn the cards. The protagonists will use the cards during the soap.

In Brazil, the government itself is looking for cost-conscious ways to promote the country's products abroad and has enlisted leading broadcaster Globo and McCann-Erickson Worldwide, part of Interpublic Group of Cos.

The idea is to use Brazil's soap operas, which are shown around the world, to promote Brazilian coffee and soft drinks, clothing and even jet planes. The cost of such initiatives is split between industry trade associations and the government's Agency of Export Promotion. The soap opera "Esperanca" (Portuguese for "Hope") already incorporates the quality of Brazilian coffee in its plot and is slated for international program sales.

Across the world in India, many rural consumers lack TV reception but the country boasts the world's biggest movie industry, with more than 1,000 films a year shot in Bollywood. So it made sense for Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett Worldwide to open in February 2001 Leo Entertainment, specializing in creating ads to promote films and arranging product placement in movies.

One of Leo Entertainment's first big projects is the Dec. 6 release of director Sanjay Gupta's "Kaante" (Hindi for "Thorns"), inspired by Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs."

It was a natural fit for Burnett client Coca-Cola Co., which had been looking for ways to enhance the macho image of Thums Up, India's leading cola brand. "Kaante," in which a gang of six Indians plan the perfect bank robbery in Los Angeles, has the street cred Thums Up wanted. "Thums Up has a more macho, rugged image-it's a stronger cola than Coke or Pepsi," said Sanjay Bhutiani, general manager of Leo Burnett Bombay and head of Leo Entertainment.

early involvement

The product placement began early on. "We get involved at the script stage, once the cast is finalized," he said. During the movie, the bank robbers drink Thums up, the cola's logo is visible on a tote bag used in the heist and the robbers use the "thumbs up" gesture. "It is very subliminal, very natural in the film," said Mr. Bhutiani.

Leo Burnett has already created a joint TV commercial for Thums Up and the film studio that aired in May and July, helping to build excitement for the movie with the tagline "Are you ready for the thunder?"

"Films provide a huge exposure to the consumer," said Mr. Bhutiani. "More people are watching films, going to multiplexes, and sales of DVDs and video cassettes are increasing."

Mike Murphy, Ogilvy Action's Singapore-based CEO for Asia, agrees. In May, Ogilvy Action, the promotional arm of WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather in Asia, formed a regional alliance with Hollywood entertainment marketing agency Norm Marshall & Associates. The duo is already working together with LG Electronics, an Ogilvy client in Australia, to place an LG branded plasma screen in "The Matrix 2." As part of a consumer promotion, an Australian won a walk-on part in the film.

Currently, the alliance is trying to place products in MGM Distribution Co.'s new James Bond film, "Die Another Day," and "Shanghai Knights," Touchstone Pictures' upcoming Jackie Chan movie.

"Films are important in Asia since it's such a youth market, and audience numbers at cinemas tend to be rising in the region," said Mr. Murphy.

And in India, where the popular culture is dominated by Bollywood stars and top cricket players, it can be cheaper to place a product in a film than pay a movie star to be an endorser, said Mr. Bhutiani.

Curiously, an Indian film, on a much smaller scale, is one of the first projects to come out of Artist Network, a $10 million outfit linking creatives from the music, film and advertising industries, which includes among its backers St. Luke's, one of London's hottest ad agencies in the 1990s.

Founded in May, Artist Network, headed by chief executive Andy Law, a founder and partner of St. Luke's, includes a music division, film and TV units. The music division is headed by former Eurythmic David Stewart. Other investors include Body Shop founders Anita and Gordon Roddick.

The idea is for artists to market their own work so that they get a larger cut of royalties, steering the money away from the international entertainment mammoths. Executives at St. Luke's will sit down with an artist, discuss how to position the artist's image, then serve as the creative agency. Mr. Law's role is to meet with marketers and suggest how they can tap directly into this creative pool of musicians and directors. Artist Network already has two unnamed clients in Sweden. "The key is how to handle, introduce and involve the client in the creative process beyond advertising," Mr. Law said.

In continental Europe, a more permanent approach has been taken by some to meld advertisers with the entertainment industry. In November 2001, Scholz & Friends, a small European ad network based in Hamburg and 77% owned by Cordiant Communications Group, merged with Berlin-based television producer United Visions Entertainment. The united group was the first advertising organization to be listed on the German stock exchange.

integration

United Visions Entertainment was founded by Wolfgang Penk, the developer of TV game show "Wetten Dass" or ("Bet That") and the former head of entertainment at ZDF, one of Europe's biggest TV networks.

The agency is increasingly stressing an integrated approach to its clients' marketing communications objectives with traditional advertising. "We approach clients with program entertainment ideas," said Sebastian Turner, chairman of the Scholz & Friends board of management, noting that owning an entertainment division has helped the ad agency win new business. In Germany, companies are not allowed to place products for payment in regular TV shows, only in special events, such as a New Year's Eve TV program.

In China, Scholz & Friends and a local joint-venture partner are supplying national broadcaster China Central Television and some regional channels with a weekly TV show about new cars and industry trends called "Car Vision."

"It's a wonderful platform for promoting car brands," Mr. Turner said.

Under a barter system, the Germans supply the programs and in return share with the Chinese a cut of advertising sales during commercial breaks. Scholz & Friends has a TV production company but not an ad agency in China, so the advertising space is open to all car manufacturers.

contributing: charles newbery

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