My sense of being at this inflection point is driven by the degree to which the "convergence game" is defined as a broad all-media-and-content approach vs. a narrower view that approaches entertainment as a tactical promotional platform only.
To be clear, there's a lot I like about where things stand. I like that big-time players such as Coca-Cola and General Motors are asking the right questions and setting the bar high. I like that there's a healthy dialogue in progress regarding the issue of hard measurement vs. "gut" calls. (The answer lies somewhere in between, of course.) And I'm encouraged to see a growing realization that no single capability-whether it is that of content developer, content distributor, talent agency or advertising agency-can do it all. This is all good.
A troublesome direction
On the other hand, marketing-through-entertainment is headed in a troublesome direction because it seems far too narrow. The clear emphasis on product-placement deals in movies and TV is a very limited definition of this nascent business.
Any reasonable observer today has to see most of the marketing world is chasing a handful of product-placement deals. This is prob-lematic and limiting. There just aren't enough bona fide "hits" to go around. I'm not disparaging product-placement as a tool; I just believe its marketing potential, from the standpoint of the sponsor, is overrated. The excessive emphasis on film deals is being increasingly abetted by "wannabes" attempting to exploit this glamorous hot button. The wannabes' main values lie in limited, often superficial, relationships in Hollywood or on Madison Avenue, rather than possession of the skills and experience needed to craft and leverage an entertainment idea.
a second path
There is a second path that can lead to a new scale for marketing-through-entertainment and a permanent place at the table of valuable channel options. I see the following as key principles in getting there.
* Consider partnering. Sponsors whose needs are strategically aligned can often put more in front of the consumer, at a better return for their marketing dollar, by co-funding an effort and then running their individual promotion programs off the common content base. Chevrolet and Coke sponsored the 2000 Olympic Torch Run-a great alliance built around a powerful consumer touch point.
* Develop more proprietary content. There's a huge amount of untapped potential to this approach. In this model, a brand can either be embedded in the content, such as in the now famous BMW Films initiative, or tied to it, as in the Anheuser-Busch project with Kevin Spacey's Trigger Street filmmaker's program. Marketers know there is measurable value in offering consumers a unique and compelling experience that they, the marketers, can control in terms of potency and scale.
* Focus more on initiatives that are scaleable and repeatable because promotional calendars and planning cycles demand programs that have proven effectiveness. To date only the sports business has consistently provided examples of highly scaleable and repeatable partnerships. While one could argue TV and film are ephemeral by nature, and thus don't lend themselves to this, there are properties (e.g. "Matrix") and programs (Emmys, Tribeca Film Festival, et. al.) that have an evergreen quality to them that creates opportunities for broader marketing relationships.
* Respect the value of process. While marketing-and-entertainment convergence is driven by ideas and creativity, a respect for process, particularly from the channel/content side, is needed to turn ideas into actions. Many failed relationships I've seen were primarily a function of poor or no process, or of over-promising and under-delivering.
The principles that will spur growth of marketing-through-entertainment are wrapped around building sustainable, controllable and own-able brand-integration franchises that enhance a brand's position or cause a consumer to act. Not coincidentally, these are pretty much the principles that guide marketers in managing brands, and their absence in many of the early efforts at leveraging the power and reach of Hollywood explains why Madison and Vine haven't yet truly converged. Hopefully, the best is yet to come.
Phil Guarascio was VP-general manager, marketing and advertising for General Motors Corp.'s North American operations before retiring in 2000. He now is a senior adviser to the William Morris Agency and the National Football League.