Commentary by Scott Donaton


Innovation Should Not Be Kept in a Separate Box

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The "best car commercial ever, an absolute triumph of product placement, and great fun as a movie in the bargain," wrote Joe Morgenstern in his Wall Street
Scott Donaton is the editor of 'Advertising Age.'
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review of The Italian Job.

His reference was to the central role of the BMW Mini in an otherwise-mediocre film. He might just as well have been writing about "The Hire," BMW's series of Internet-distributed mini movies. The short films do at least as good a selling job and are appreciably more entertaining. They were also inducted last week into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

So we know they're art. But advertising?

The debate persists
The question feels stale, having been endlessly chewed over last year by pundits and awards-show juries after the first series of BMW films was released. Yet the debate persists, reflecting the industry's reluctance to accept branded content as a legitimate marketing tool. It's less disruptive to treat such initiatives as one-shots, experiments, passing fads.

That segregation also provides excuses for not creating distinct budgets for such projects or holding them to the same level of accountability to which other marketing disciplines answer. Bartle Bogle Hegarty's John Hegarty, one of the sharpest tools in the shed, might disagree with my last point. At the Association of Independent Commercial Producers conference in New York last week, he encouraged advertisers to forget return on investment in branded entertainment and take a leap of faith.

That advice was designed to get past the fear factor that will prevent some from exploring this new medium. Unfortunately, it also contributes to the thinking that branded entertainment should be kept in a separate box and judged by separate standards.

New standards
I would argue that advertisers should call for the development of measurement standards to determine the return on Madison & Vine investments. It eliminates the easy out. Ask Internet sellers how often they run smack into that wall to understand how

Photo: Paramount Pictures
'The Italian Job' is both a movie and a feature-length car advertisement.
it can impede a medium's development.

As I head this week to the International Advertising Festival at Cannes (jealous?), I fear the world's most prominent awards show is in danger of perpetuating the ghettoization of branded entertainment. Last year's Cannes jury screwed up a chance to reward BMW's innovation when it barred "The Hire" from the film competition. (The festival barely escaped with its credibility when the cyber jury awarded the films a shared Grand Prix.)

Dan Wieden set out with the best intentions to avoid a repeat this year. Wieden, who will chair the film and print juries at Cannes, said back in February that he believes the show's judges should honor work that is "a sign of where things could be going."

Titanium Lion
His solution, however, keeps innovation in a separate box. Cannes last month created a prize, the Titanium Lion, to be awarded this week to the work that, in Wieden's words again, "causes the industry to ... reconsider the way forward."

It's a nice gesture, but it will encourage those who want to continue to treat breakthrough creative concepts as creatures separate from the almighty 30-second spot.

~ ~ ~
Since I knew Jim Brady would deliver a far more eloquent eulogy for Art Cooper than I could, I asked Jim to write one. His remembrance leaves nothing worth saying about the longtime GQ editor unsaid. But I wanted to pay personal tribute to Art Cooper, whom I knew and liked, so I'll do it with the same words that were the last I spoke to him, as I was leaving his recent farewell party. What I told Art was this: He made me proud to share his profession.

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