J. Walter Thompson plays matchmaker

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When J. Walter Thompson/N.Y. set out to produce branded content based around the idea of connectivity, the theme extended beyond the program itself, because it also helped JWT to connect two clients: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and Baileys. The show, Baileys In Tune, is reminiscent of other sponsored concert programs, but features the added twist of a popular modern artist paired with a rock icon, who collaborate to perform and discuss influences together. Conceived, created and executive produced by JWT, the program also represented JWT going back to its roots, when the agency produced the Kraft Variety Show in the 1950s. "This show is one of the number of platforms that we have created to help [the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame] to get their message out and talk about the influence and power of music," says executive creative director Eric Steinhauser, who conceived of the program and played an integral role in its development and execution. "What they can do is take that message of connectivity and find another existing client, Baileys, whose brand identity is all about connectivity. and bringing people together."

It's commonly accepted that branded content at its best also marries clients with appropriate entertainment that is able to relate the best qualities of a product, but with a dream client like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Steinhauser didn't have to stretch to come up with an entertainment angle. Through the agency's entertainment unit, IconEntertainment@jwt, the team booked artists Paul Simon and John Mayer to perform on the show, which was hosted by producer and American Idol judge Randy Jackson (who also chimed in to play bass with Simon and Mayer in the finale) "We looked at it as an opportunity," says Steinhauser. "We're trying to find new and non-traditional ways to reach out to a bigger audience in an impactful manner." The artists each taped a solo performance and then collaborated on songs such as "Slip Sliding Away," taking turns on vocals and trading guitar riffs. Sprinkled among performances were question and answer sessions with Jackson, where the songwriters talked about influences (Elvis Presley for Simon, Stevie Ray Vaughn for Mayer) and their processes. "They're both articulate, passionate and prolific songwriters," says Steinhauser, noting that for the theme of connectivity, they were a perfect match. The two played at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on a set designed with music-influenced flourishes such as strands of light representing guitar strings. Also scattered throughout the set were neutral-colored Baileys logos. "Baileys wanted to do a very smart and not heavy-handed sponsorship. They understand that it has to be honest and heartfelt. They were very demanding that the sponsorship was handled in a smart and discreet manner. Let the connectivity of artists be the real connection."

Because the show was dually sponsored and broadcast by VH1, there were many collaborative meetings, but according to Steinhauser, the program was able to grow with input from everyone involved. "The biggest challenge was being able to communicate, and we evolved it and developed it, had everyone participating," he says. "All parties had a chance to impact it and help craft it so that there was a real true sense of ownership across the board. It started with a clarity in creating content that was different."

The irony is that this content, while different to today's audiences, was the norm in the 1950s, when agencies like JWT regularly produced programming sponsored by clients. "It's a wonderful evolution to look back at a time when agencies had more of an impact on what was aired," says Steinhauser. In a way, however, the program has not evolved but come full circle, connecting even the present with the past.