Brands Are More Than Checkbooks for Content

Ogilvy CEO Shelly Lazarus on Branded Entertainment That Worked

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LAS VEGAS ( -- Fund-seeking content producers and programmers got a big wake-up call on branded entertainment from Shelly Lazarus this morning at the National Association of Television Program Executives Conference here.

"Brands are more than checkbooks to develop content," Ms. Lazarus, the CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, said in a question-and-answer session with Ad Age editor Jonah Bloom.
Ad Age editor Jonah Bloom in a question-and-answer session with Ogilvy's Shelly Lazarus
Ad Age editor Jonah Bloom in a question-and-answer session with Ogilvy's Shelly Lazarus Credit: NATPE
"We develop shows to get [them] to an endpoint. Brands are cultural artifacts that have inherent story values. We see ourselves as being both in the entertainment business and the product business."

'Not breaking new ground'
To accommodate the resurgence of branded entertainment and product placement -- which Ms. Lazarus likened to the old days of the early Procter & Gamble-sponsored soap operas ("We're not breaking ground here") -- Ms. Lazarus set up a branded entertainment and content group helmed by executive director Doug Scott two years ago.

One project that really opened Ogilvy's eyes to the power of nontraditional campaigns was Ogilvy Toronto's effort for Unilever brand Dove. The "Evolution" campaign took a $50,000 viral commercial and launched it into a national initiative for the changing perception of beauty that went on to garner a Cannes Grand Prix Lion. Then Ogilvy and Unilever teamed again for a more traditional product placement for Pond's facial cream on USA's "The Starter Wife" miniseries last year, and the conversation changed between the creatives, the brand and the media planners at Ogilvy sibling MindShare.

MindShare bought the show during TV's annual upfront sales period, when USA was still working on the storyline. Ogilvy's content team was able to sit at the writing table to talk about using Pond's not just as a product, but as an arc in the show's "40 and fabulous" storyline. "It was a subtle yet very significant moment and brought the brand's message to life," she said. After the show's high-rated run on USA last summer, Pond's was able to reverse its 24-month decline in sales, and saw "double-digit increases in sales," Ms. Lazarus added.

The model of the future
This is the model successful branded-entertainment initiatives will have to take in the future. Ms. Lazarus said she had just gotten a call the previous morning from a network programmer asking if she had any clients who might fit with his list of pilots. "The agencies have to get involved earlier in the conversation. ... If you have an idea for content in any form and you can see where a particular brand would be an exquisite fit, we have people who can have a conversation with you about what would work better."

Not that Ogilvy is looking to replace the content programmers any time soon. "I need all of you desperately," Ms. Lazarus said. "We can come up with a brand idea, but we can't do programming. We wouldn't start to even try."

Another case study she pointed to was the "Real Food" series Ogilvy created for Hellman's mayonnaise to combat the myth that mayonnaise was a "poisonous" food. Although the program would have been a perfect fit for cable TV, the group ultimately partnered with Yahoo's online food channel to build brand extensions. "We saw 10 other ways to have consumers engage with the brand through recipe exchanges and food communities."

Having seen the positive effects of new media in Ogilvy's recent brand efforts, Ms. Lazarus didn't seem to think much of media plans of yore. "If you don't ask the right questions [about new-media channels], you're going to get a media plan with print and radio on it," she said.

Measurement issues
Measurement remains an issue for branded entertainment, particularly since determining scale for a targeted, multiplatform campaign can be difficult. At the end of the day, however, "the ultimate measure has to be sales," Ms. Lazarus said. "As much as we applaud engagement and spending five minutes with something online, if you can only get thousands of people to do it, it's not interesting to mass marketers. That is what mass media means."

Yet media budgets have yet to make any major adjustments to accommodate the still-nascent market. Ms. Lazarus said 90% of her clients' budgets are still spent on traditional media, while the last 10% is used to "fool around with." There will be a significant move toward digital media in the near future, "but I don't think there's to be a year where TV goes from 69% to 40% [of media budgets]," she said.
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