The agency's Playa del Rey, Calif., office has hired Brenda Ross, 37, formerly vice president of brand communications of Virgin Group's Virgin Mobile USA, to the new position of director, with responsibility for branded content development. She reports to Robert LePlae, president of TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles.
'At the forefront'
"We want to make sure we're at the forefront of the branded content arena," Mr. LePlae said. Ms. Ross "will assess all clients' strategic needs and develop solutions meeting those needs," he said. TBWA/Chiat/Day's clients include Apple Computer Co., Adidas, Energizer Holdings, Mars, Nissan North America's Nissan and Infiniti brands and Sony Computer Entertainment's PlayStation.
Mr. LePlae said he hopes
TBWA/Chiat/Day will not push branded content on clients, he said, nor will it be shunned because the agency views it as "revenue neutral internally." When strategy indicates, branded content production will be considered on an even footing with broadcast, print or any other marketing plan component, he said.
The new black
Rob Schwartz, executive creative director at TBWA, termed branded content the equivalent of fashion's "the new black." He said clients are excited about experimenting in the new arena, but once it's over they need to be convinced about the return on investment.
"We better have answers before there are questions," he said. "We can't do eye candy without nutritional value."
In addition to the branded content duties, Ms. Ross will handle account management leadership on new business and head special projects.
For her part, Ms. Ross said the job is a "work in progress." With Virgin for four years, she worked on joint marketing and branding projects for a number of products, including Virgin Cola.
Following Weiden & Kennedy
TBWA/Chiat/Day is not the first agency to establish branded content capabilities. Another West Coast creative powerhouse, independent Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., established an entertainment unit about five years ago. Wieden, however, initially created the unit to help creatives flex their artistic muscle by developing books and other projects unrelated to client advertising or marketing considerations.
The shop's first major branded content effort was the May 2001 TV program, The Road to Paris, featuring a behind-the-scenes look at how the U.S. Postal Service cycling team, led by Lance Armstrong, prepared for the Tour de France. The project was done for longtime Wieden client Nike. Currently, the Wieden unit, led by agency partner Bill Davenport, is working on a Broadway production, Balls, inspired by the agency's award-winning Nike spot in which basketballs are bounced to create music.
The shop that has so far made the biggest splash in the space, Publicis Groupe's Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis, producer of the BMW Internet films, does not have a formal entertainment unit.