Editorial: In content war, everyone a loser

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Viewers of "The Apprentice" are left with no doubt about who is in control-Donald Trump points the finger and summarily dismisses those lowly wannabes. Behind the cameras it's indisputably producer Mark Burnett pulling the strings, signing up product placements, orchestrating tie-ins and writing brands and brand managers into the script. It's not so easy, however, to identify the seat of power in the overall branded-entertainment space-and carping over who's in control could ultimately stunt its growth.

A survey of executives at agencies, marketers and the media conducted jointly by Ad Age and the American Marketing Association found rampant confusion over where to turn. While respondents said they were allocating more money to branded entertainment, they were clearly lacking a guide in that space. While 38% cited agencies as "the most valuable partners in working out new strategies in an increasingly consumer-controlled world," and 32% named media agencies, 21% looked to media sellers as their guide, 8% named talent agencies and 13% cited TV/film producers. A self-sufficient 31% identified the marketer itself as the most valuable resource in navigating the changing media environment.

At Ad Age's Madison & Vine conference last month, it was clear that a number of marketers were going directly to producers, and some, like Mr. Burnett, are clearly positioning to capitalize on that trend. But completely bypassing the networks that normally barter deals with advertisers sets up a war for control-and the financial spoils-between sales executives and content creators. NBC is dedicating several executives to the issue in the hopes of working out a compromise.

That's a step in the right direction. Rather than infighting, involved parties should work together to build branded entertainment and fight to keep wary marketers from taking their budgets elsewhere. In a time when the CEO is constantly questioning the CMO, the best business case must be made by the industry. All the partners at the intersection of Madison & Vine should be helping marketers to cross that street by proving branded entertainment's return on investment.

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