Visa, FedEx pony up for future fund

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McDonald's Co., visa and FedEx are among major marketers pooling their money to fund research into the increasingly perplexing array of emerging media options, from DVRs to video-on-demand, satellite radio, mobile phones and video games.

The companies are all investors in a fund set up by Omnicom Group media agency OMD. Since it began lining up clients over the summer, the pool has grown to over $2 million, and the dozen or so marketers involved have committed upward of $15 million in total spending across digital platforms.

The goal is to share findings about how to navigate media platforms that are popular with consumers but don't offer easy solutions for advertisers and raise questions about which demographic groups are using what media, how receptive they are to advertising and how ads can be measured.

"Every client knows this is coming and they want answers as to which media are going to work, which are going to stay and which will give them better return on investment," said Page Thompson, OMD's North American CEO.

Standing out

While all of the major media agencies devote time and money to understanding how consumers are engaging with new media outlets, OMD's program stands out for two reasons. First, it's been successful in getting major marketers to collaborate and, second, those marketers will get results from the entire pool, not just the tests they take part in.

"The fund is able to give them a way to learn about a lot of different things, maximizing their investment basically," said David DeSocio, chief strategic officer, OMD. "You can learn about 10 things instead of four things."

Participating marketers initially peppered OMD with concerns about confidentiality and relevance. To assuage those worries, a marketer will be able to ask specific questions for which only it will see the answers; then the main study will make responses available in aggregate without identifying the specific client. Many of the participants had already been experimenting with delivering commercial messages through new technology. McDonald's, for instance, has dabbled in SMS messaging and podcasting.

"What we don't know is the impact on a long-term basis and what the changing media landscape will look like over a period of time," said Peter Sterling, VP-marketing for McDonald's. "OMD is taking a blank-paper approach to these media vehicles as part of long-term planning."

OMD is seeking proposals from media sellers for how marketers can test emerging media platforms, including cable operators and mobile network operators. The agency will match the best proposals with clients, based on creative, target demographics and an appetite for experimentation.

The idea for the program, known as OMD Next, was conceived by Messrs. Thompson and DeSocio as well as worldwide CEO Joe Uva and Jeff Minsky, U.S. director of high-growth media. It's being managed on a day-to-day basis by Sean Finnegan, the U.S. director of OMD Digital, who is relocating from Chicago to New York.

Its sibling creative agency, BBDO, is known to be working on ideas that will work with viewers who use DVRs to play back their programs, among others. David Lubars, BBDO's North American chairman-chief creative officer, said the agency is working closely with OMD on work in new media.

"The whole game has changed between media and creative and the relationship between the two," he said. "Media used to be about how many exposures we could get for the money we have. Now it's much more of a creative thing. What places can I show up that will delight and surprise viewers?"

Contributing: Kate MacArthur

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