A decade after founding the WPP Group-owned branding firm Alliance, president-CEO Jarrod Moses has left to partner with Tinseltown's United Talent Agency to form United Entertainment Group, a new company devoted to creating entertainment properties and fashioning "entertainment-based marketing solutions" for consumer brands.
"This is about having skin in the game," Mr. Moses said in an interview with Advertising Age. He called his new venture with UTA "the right kind of company at the right time" -- one that will invest in the entertainment content it produces, significantly limiting the financial risk for brands.
The 43-hour day
More and more advertisers have been seeking to break through to increasingly distracted, multitasking consumers by going beyond simple product placement and brand integration. They would seem to have little choice: According to a 2006 study by Yahoo and OMD, U.S. consumers now effectively live a 43-hour day (thanks to multitasking) filled with more than 16 hours of interaction with media and technology. That's significantly up from 2005, when a similar in-house study conducted at MTV found a "normal" day lasted 32 hours, with 6.5 hours devoted to various media.
"It's not about reusing an ad campaign that's already in the can," Mr. Moses said, adding, "With us, there's no such thing as just 'weaving' a product into a show. In our space, all worlds of entertainment will be open, right from the start: TV, film, live events, the web -- whatever engages the consumer."
The deal is a substantial shift for both UTA, which previously had limited its consulting efforts to corporate clients such as Amazon.com and American Eagle Outfitters, and for Mr. Moses, who'll have ready access both to UTA clients and to the broader Hollywood creative community. (UEG will operate independently from UTA, which has a separate branding and licensing practice solely for its own clients, such as Gwen Stefani's L.A.M.B. fashion label.)
The appeal to brands, Mr. Moses said, is twofold: In addition to mitigating financial risk by co-financing content, UGE will also allow brands to retain the rights to successful formats, as a 2006 deal made by Alliance for Kia Motors illustrates.
To the dismay of its bosses in Seoul, the low-cost South Korean automaker's cars had no U.S. profile, and so were largely relegated to elderly retirees on fixed incomes. But after Alliance created "On the Road" for Spike TV, which featured the band Sugar Ray in a sort of "Real World" meets "The Apprentice" reality competition, wherein college-age interns competed for a gig at Sugar Ray's record label, customer traffic at Kia dealerships increased 17%.
"That's a show Kia now owns the rights to worldwide," Mr. Moses said.
UTA partner Peter Benedek called the agency's courtship of Mr. Moses "a long romance" that has run in the past several months. Unsurprisingly, it began with a collaboration on a project at the office: Alliance's client LG Electronics wanted to differentiate its TV sets at big-box stores where, as anyone who's ever stood mesmerized at a Best Buy can testify, they were indistinguishable on a wall of TVs all playing the same NFL game or nature show.
LG told Alliance it wanted fresh, original content to play on its TVs to set it apart, and it wanted it fast.
UTA happened to represent Sam Layborne, one half of the creative duo behind "Tom and Sam Are Stuck," a popular comedic web series on YouTube and elsewhere about two schnooks from the future. (Stranded in 2007 after their time machine breaks down and disappears, Tom and Sam soon realize the best way to get people to care about their plight is to film a reality series.)
Working together over the summer, Mr. Moses and UTA reached a deal to put original "Tom and Sam" episodes directly on TVs at big-box retailers, with the hope of seeing an increase in visits to LG's website and goosing overall sales.
But a nagging question remains, even though UEG is technically separated from UTA: Isn't there an inherent conflict of interest for a talent agency when it represents both the talent and the talent's employers?
Said Mr. Benedek of his newly famous web clients, "They're not hippies; they're capitalists. Getting involved with a major consumer-electronics brand was something they were thrilled to do."
Meanwhile, for his part, Mr. Moses is eager to hammer home one final point to brands who've so far been averse to dipping a toe into Tinstletown.
"I'd like to stay away from the word 'Hollywood,'" he said. "It's really about entertainment marketing, and that can come as easily from an enormous star as it can from two guys from Duluth writing a video blog in their basement."