Harness the tension

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A little more than 10 years ago, Jeffrey Katzenberg issued a clarion call for change in an industry renowned more for acquiescence than action-especially when it came to meddling with the "blockbuster" formula so prevalent in the entertainment industry. He didn't buy the idea that big box office was predicated on big budgets. Creativity, both of the artist and, yes, occasionally, of the studio executive, was being subsumed by the notion of simply buying success with grandiose special effects and big names on the marquee. The "formula" was to win at the expense of creativity-namely, the story-and Jeffrey wasn't having any of it.

By the tone and message of Steve Heyer's speech at Advertising Age's recent Madison + Vine conference, it's evident Mr. Heyer, Coca-Cola Co.'s new president, isn't buying the "business as usual" mantra, either. This time it's about the commingling of brands and bands, the merging of content and commerce at the intersection of Madison and Vine.

His shot across the bow is directed primarily at the ad community as Mr. Heyer advocated a move "away from spots in pods," "away from product placements that are gratuitous" and toward "ideas that elicit emotion and create connections." But if Hollywood is to succeed in helping to make these connections between brand message and consumers by way of content "co-creation," then the entertainment community will also have to transcend its transactional "one-off" approach to developing and launching its products.

Successful, collaborative partnering with brands (that results, in effect, with the parties serving as co-marketers of a film, TV show or music act) will require a strategic perspective. Effective and seamless brand integration is hard. Synchronizing that process with the media-buying functionality on both sides (which is critical) is harder still. But without that effort there will be contact without connection.

There are more similarities between the ad and entertainment industries than differences. The defining difference is the involvement on the entertainment side of the creative artists in the process, and the most important consideration in marrying the two worlds is picking the right content for the right brand. That's where most efforts to date have failed.

Mr. Heyer spoke to the "shared challenge" of "overcoming the creative and economic tensions that are an inherent part of this convergence of content and commerce." While I strongly agree we face shared challenges in creating more value for both audiences and marketers, success here is not about overcoming creative and economic tensions. It's about jumping into the midst of this roiling tension. It's about passion and people fighting for ideas. You don't want to overcome economic-creative tension. You want to be part of it.

GET IN THE GAME

Get in the game via advocates whose expertise is navigating that tension and negotiating resolutions that allow ideas to flourish and become tangible content. You shouldn't try to conquer this tension; you should try to get your seat at the table to harness it.

Talent agencies can predict, fairly reliably, what people will be watching, reading and listening to, and do it further into the future than any other resource available to marketers. That information flow and access, difficult, if not impossible, to replicate, is what provides talent agencies the platform to connect brands into the pulse of "what's next."

While business models and practices will certainly shift, the reality seems to be that marketers are not going to be bankrolling the next wave of production budgets through the "magic" of entertainment marketing. Instead, look for the next big victories to come from the successful consummation of co-marketing partnerships between demographically-consistent content and brands.

Amid the increased noise surrounding integrated marketing, William Morris Consulting will quietly provide consistent and measurable entertainment-based solutions to a select group of clients. In some cases, it will be in coordination with their agency partners and in some cases without (but always in the service of and at the direction of the client). The biggest "wins" will come when there is a confluence of activity by all the parties working in tandem to elevate and leverage a particular initiative. That is where cold fusion takes hold. Where Madison and Vine not only intersect but connect.

Jim Wiatt is president and co-CEO of the William Morris Agency, Beverly Hills, Calf., and this article is adapted from Advertising Age's Madison + Vine newsletter.

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