Weinstein Brothers' Studio a Winner; Writers' Guild a Loser

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LOS ANGELES -- It’s that time again. After the first six months of 2005, Madison & Vine evaluated the five best and worst branded entertainment deals. Now that the year’s done and over with, it’s time to look at what worked and what didn’t during the second half of the year, and what lessons might be learned from each.


1. WPP Invests in the Weinsteins and Secures a First-Look Deal

The Weinstein brothers deal with WPP is at the top of our best deals list, while the Hollywood creative guilds get our nod as the worst deal of the second half of 2005.

The Deal: In October, Harvey and Bob Weinstein secured a $25 million investment from WPP Group, giving the ad agency holding company a long-term first-look deal with the brothers’ fledgling new studio for its stable of clients that include American Express, Procter & Gamble, Nokia, IBM and Rolex. The agreement came on the heels of a similar pact between L’Oreal Paris and the Weinstein Co.

What It Means: The alliance, a first of its kind, shows that the Weinsteins consider a plethora of categories ripe for tie-ins and cross-promotions with their properties beyond the fast food, automotive and snacks players Hollywood’s studios traditionally target. The Weinsteins, who have raised $490 million in financing for their new company, will need all the help they can get. As an independent studio, Weinstein Co. will have to rely on the extra marketing muscle that big brands can provide them to launch their projects. They will no doubt take full advantage of the partnerships with WPP’s various clients, which can expose entertainment properties in nontraditional areas.

Why It's Enviable: Marketers will have early access to film, TV, Internet, DVD, book or other projects developed by the Weinsteins, who are legendary hit-makers in Hollywood. They can either pass or play. The Weinsteins, meanwhile, will be able to make deals with WPP clients or any other advertisers they choose. They are not exclusive to the WPP roster. Traditional tie-in partners like fast-food chains and toy companies are still fair game, and the studio could mix WPP and non-WPP clients within the same project. Sounds like the best of both worlds.

Bottom Line: Giant ad holding companies, with scores of blue chip marketers in the fold, are looking for fresh new ways to get those clients in front of consumers. Give them a viable avenue and they just might take it.

2. Mountain Dew Creates Production Company MD Films and Releases Its First Effort, "First Descent"

The Deal: PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew formed MD Films, through which it will produce and release action sports and music-driven feature films that it will fully finance. Its first, the visually stunning documentary “First Descent: The Story of the Snowboarding Revolution,” was produced with branded entertainment shop Embassy Row and distributed by Universal Pictures in December.

Why It Made Sense: As a longtime sponsor of action sports, Mountain Dew fits naturally into the world of snowboarders, skateboarders and bikers. The marketer was a founding sponsor of the X Games and backs numerous athletes, including two of those featured in “First Descent.” The PG-13 documentary, aimed squarely at the caffeinated soda’s prime 18- to 24-year-old male target, traced the history of snowboarding from its surfing roots in the ‘70s to the billion-dollar Olympics-sanctioned sport it is today. The budget for the documentary, which was shot in Alaska, was not disclosed, but the marketer said it cost about the same as a 30-second TV spot. The movie, which was released in just 243 theaters, earned a mere $751,000 in the U.S., but is likely to take off when it hits DVD.

Why It Stands Out: Like Quiksilver and Hallmark before it, Mountain Dew took a risk and paid to create entertainment that would, at least in theory, speak to its core audience. A key component of its strategy was to brand itself subtly in the documentary, for fear of turning off that ad-averse young demographic. Mountain Dew logos were visible on gear and clothing, but did not show up in any of the film’s marketing, also paid for by the brand. Nor was Mountain Dew the only drink in “First Descent” -- arch rival Red Bull made appearances on one of its sponsored athletes.

Bottom Line: Many marketers talk about producing entertainment, but few actually take the plunge. Also, because Mountain Dew’s documentary didn’t overdo it with product placement, “First Descent” could serve as a model for other marketers, which might come to see the halo effect of quality, well-targeted branded entertainment, regardless of its financial payback.

3. Pepsi Produces Web Series "100 Concerts in 100 Days"

The Deal: In the summer Pepsi launched “100 Concerts in 100 Days,” a Web series revolving around the antics of 20-somethings Dave Offenheiser and Adam Shapiro as they travel the country and attend concerts along the way. The series aired on Pepsi Smash, the online music and entertainment channel the company launched with Yahoo Music, and was produced with the House of Blues and Embassy Row.

Why It Worked: The impressive scale of the project. For 100 days, two-minute daily Webisodes documented Dave and Shappy’s exploits and were accompanied by journal entries, reviews of shows, message boards, interviews and photos of the duo getting tips on how to pick up women from singer John Legend, grabbing drinks with actor Laurence Fishburne in a small bar in New Orleans and attending concerts for a mix of established and indie artists like Kanye West, Alicia Keyes, Lisa Marie Presley, Bad Religion, Queensryche, Crystal Gayle and Fishbone, among others.

Why It Almost Didn't: Very little advertising off of the main Yahoo Music site. Pepsi relied mainly on word-of-mouth to attract an audience, limiting its reach. The company declined to disclose numbers, but said it was satisfied with the result.

Bottom Line: Brands have played it safe in the past, producing a handful of short films, but never a Web series as extensive as Pepsi’s music road trip. The result was an engaging and entertaining experience that the soft-drink giant plans to bring back in another form.

4. Universal Studios Secures Marketers for "King Kong"

The Deal: Universal Pictures gathered a group of A-list marketing partners, including Burger King Corp., Nestle, Kellogg Co., Volkswagen of America, JP Morgan Chase, Toshiba and the city of New York, to back the release of its much anticipated holiday movie “King Kong.”

Why It's Significant: Period films usually don’t appeal to marketing partners because there’s no opportunity for product placement, making any tie-in deal more difficult to execute. For his remake of “King Kong,” multiple Oscar-winner Peter Jackson set his version in the 1930s, just like the black-and-white original, and used no modern products. That didn’t stop the partners, however, from deftly creating links to a movie that they could not appear in.

How the Tie-ins Were Executed: Mr. Jackson’s production and special effects companies in New Zealand were intimately involved in shaping the marketing campaigns of a number of promotional partners. His team created custom computer-generated shots of Kong for Toshiba and made illustrations for Chase’s Kong-themed MasterCard. Carolynne Cunningham, a producer on “King Kong,” directed a TV spot for the Volkswagen Touareg SUV, with colleagues creating images for that marketer’s print campaign that incorporated iconic shots from the film. Burger King, which introduced double and triple Whoppers around the release of the film, culled the larger-than-life theme and used it throughout its marketing -- even super-sizing its own icon, the King, to re-create a scene from the original film for a TV spot.

It's Not the Size That Matters, It's How You Use It: Combined, the marketing partners spent some $100 million on advertising, promotions and other hype around “King Kong.” That’s not a record -- not even close. Studio tent pole movies often attract big brands willing to spend mightily with the hopes of cashing in on the buzz surrounding the entertainment. The difference here is that the partners made the best use of the unique talent at hand -- in this case, Mr. Jackson and his award-winning team -- and trusted that those instincts were on target. The results were smart and clever. The marketers who handled their own campaigns -- in Burger King’s case, its well-lauded ad agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky -- did so with flair.

5. Toyota's Prius Makes a Cameo in the Finale of HBO's "Six Feet Under"

The Deal: Toyota’s Prius hybrid sedan makes a cameo in the final six minutes of the HBO drama “Six Feet Under,” ending the show’s five-year run on Aug. 21.

Why It Worked: During a sentimental montage that wraps up what happens to each of the show’s lead characters, one of them, Claire Fisher, is shown driving off into the sunset down a desert highway behind the wheel of a Prius on her way to start a new life in New York City. The image was a lasting one -- one that even mirrored the final season’s ad campaign that featured the show’s iconic green hearse headed down that same desert road. The sequence also represented a character moving forward with her life, which is part of Toyota’s brand positioning of moving forward and having a better life. It also fit with the character, who is shown angrily berating owners of gas guzzling SUVs in earlier episodes. Furthermore, the image will live on through repeated airings on HBO, potential syndication and on DVD.

Bottom Line: At a time when hybrids are all the rage, the Prius, first introduced in 1997, continues to be the poster child for alternative fuel vehicles, and is smartly using entertainment and its relationships with celebrities to land prime placements. It’s been written into the plots of shows like “The West Wing.” Larry David drives one on HBO’s comedy “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” It’s also served as an alternative limo at the Academy Awards. The car will soon appear in the Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Seinfeld”) sitcom “Old Christine” on CBS, and the romantic comedy “The Last Kiss” from DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures.

Honorable Mentions: Hallmark Gold Crown stores have another gold record with the holiday release of Michael McDonald’s “Through the Many Winters, a Christmas Album.” NBC’s “The Office,” from Ben Silverman’s Reveille Productions, integrates Levi’s, Chili’s Grill & Bar and Apple’s video iPod into its first-season episodes. Heineken creates its own day-long music event, AmsterJam, drawing 30,500 people. The Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower has a starring role in the violent bounty hunter movie “Domino.”


1. Hollywood Union Members Call for Product Placement Code of Conduct

The Situation: Members of Hollywood’s two biggest unions, the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America, say the creative process is suffering and viewer backlash is imminent because of brand integration, which they call “stealth advertising.” The unions, under aggressive new leadership, have crashed several conferences, threatened to call in the Federal Communications Commission, issued position papers on the subject, and singled out reality shows such as “The Apprentice” and “Survivor” as the most egregious examples of blatant shilling.

What They're Officially Asking For: The unions want a voluntary code of conduct for product integrations, saying actors, writers and other behind-the-scenes talent need to have a voice in how, or even if, products will be embedded into TV shows and films. They want “full and clear” disclosure of product integration at the beginning of a show; strict limits on product integration in children’s programming; and an extension of all product integration rules to cable TV. And, of course, they want to share in the financial gain from such deals with marketers.

What They Really Want: In a word: leverage. The unions want to represent writers and others who work on reality shows, which would significantly boost membership rolls, and they want to be compensated for content that’s repurposed on emerging media platforms. They also want more muscle in renegotiating residual payments for DVDs. By causing a stir around product integration, the unions might be able to dig in deeper on those matters that really matter. Union leadership has denied that the brand integration battle is a red herring.

What They Could Get: Some industry watchers say it’s not unreasonable to think that one day, in the not-so-distant future, programming could carry some kind of caveat about how brands are integrated or involved. Whether it would go much beyond the current end-credit mention is an unanswered question. Expecting the networks, studios or production companies to agree on a voluntary code of conduct for brand integration or meeting the other demands isn’t likely to happen, especially since those entities have responded so far to the unions’ saber-rattling with a resounding silence.

Reality Check: Brand integration is here to stay. It’s growing and becoming more sophisticated because the marketplace is open to it and marketers are demanding it. Furthermore, Hollywood, because of rising costs of producing entertainment, continues to look toward the ad community for help in funding shows. Those marketers, aware that their ad dollars are buying fewer consumers on TV, want to be part of the entertainment experience instead of just surrounding it. Those conditions will not change.

Lessons Learned: Interrupting high-profile business conferences, especially while dressed as The Donald, can generate a decent amount of attention and press coverage. Ditto for complaining loudly about a hot-button issue like product placement. But that won’t make it go away.

2. Dairy Queen Sponsors a Task in "The Apprentice"

The Deal: Dairy Queen sponsors a task in the Oct. 13 episode of NBC’s reality show “The Apprentice,” produced by Mark Burnett, that revolves around the ice cream chain’s iconic Blizzard product, as part of its 20th anniversary.

Why It Didn't Work: In the episode, the show’s two competing teams were tasked with designing a brand mascot for Dairy Queen’s Blizzard. The character that most represented the company’s brand and appealed to teens, as judged by Dairy Queen’s marketing executives, won. The problem: Neither a Dairy Queen store, nor the Blizzard product, was ever shown during the episode, greatly lessening the impact of the sponsorship and exposure of the brand and product. One reason for the absence: There are no Dairy Queen stores in New York City, where the show is filmed. The closest one is in neighboring New Jersey.

The Saving Grace: Dairy Queen launched a contest around “The Apprentice” tie-in, which hired the winner as a Dairy Queen Blizzard apprentice, and awarded them $50,000, a spot in a national TV ad, trips and the chance to create new Blizzard flavors. The contest, which generated 600,000 entrees, and "Apprentice"-related games, appeared online at Dairy Queen’s Blizzard Fan Club Web site.

Bottom Line: If your company is spending a considerable amount of marketing dollars to sponsor an episode of a TV show, make sure that one of your stores or, at the very least, the product that you’re promoting can be seen. Otherwise, what’s the point?

3. Multiple Car Partners Confuse "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart"

The Deal: After a successful integration in “The Apprentice” to promote its Pontiac Solstice, General Motors sponsored an episode of Mark Burnett’s spin-off, “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart,” to push its Buick Lucerne sedan and target a younger, more affluent audience.

Why It Didn't Work: In the Nov. 30 episode, teams competed to design the best dealer showroom display for the 2006 Lucerne that could be used at 2,700 dealerships nationwide. And in the show’s finale several weeks later, the winner won a Lucerne, in addition to her new position at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. But those were the only two appearances in the show’s entire season. The rest of the time, the competing teams were shown being shuttled around in various new models from rival automaker Mercedes-Benz -- models that had just hit dealership showrooms. The finale even had the two finalists driven around town in the company’s sleek Maybach limos. So much exposure of one brand confused viewers when the winner of the show was suddenly awarded a car from anther brand.

Why It Sort of Did: During the November episode, Buick aired commercials that invited consumers to attend a Lucerne V.I.P. Premiere Night on Dec. 13 at more than 600 dealerships nationwide. More than 50,000 people attended, and 736,000 people visited between the episode’s airing and the event, a 365% increase.

Bottom Line: Buick may be trying to target rich, young consumers to its older-skewing brand, but isn’t that exactly who Mercedes-Benz is going after? There may only be room for only one car partner per season of a reality show. Multiple models from multiple companies only reduces the impact of the placement and can generate confusion among viewers, as well as the brand partners themselves.

4. ZenithOptiMedia Group Teams With Hollywood's The Firm for Brand Integrations

The Deal: In August, Madison Avenue’s ZenithOptimedia Group and Hollywood management company The Firm marked the latest attempt by a media buyer to gain entry into the branded entertainment space and create opportunities for its stable of high-profile clients that include Verizon Wireless, Toyota, General Mills, Nestle, L’Oreal, JP Morgan Chase and Hewlett-Packard.

Why It Doesn't Work: Whereas WPP struck a deal directly with entertainment producers, ZenithOptimedia went to a middleman. The problem is that many of ZenithOptimedia’s clients are already successful players in the branded entertainment space, and already have several companies in Hollywood and on Madison Avenue brokering such deals for them. For example, HP has Los Angeles-based Davie-Brown Entertainment brokering its product placement and integration deals. The company also has an ongoing relationship with DreamWorks Animation. Similarly, Verizon Wireless works with New York-based AIM Productions, while Procter & Gamble has retained Creative Artists Agency and Grey’s Alliance, and has worked with Madison Road Entertainment on integrations. Toyota-based Scion works with Los Angeles outfit Inform Ventures. Not helping matters, The Firm has relatively little experience brokering branded entertainment deals. Its executives worked on the relaunch of Virgin Cola, which hasn’t taken off with consumers, and partly owns niche sportswear brand Pony. The Firm also bartered the deal to embed Zenith client Toyota into the Mark Burnett reality show “The Contender,” which wasn’t a ratings knockout and provided few opportunities for the automaker. Also, in an unusual move, The Firm's chairman, Rich Frank, will be working single-handedly on the Zenith deal, without a team of other managers, scouting for projects in development for places to embed brands, rather than designing projects from the ground up for the marketers.

Bottom Line: Some advertisers argue that good ideas can come from anyone at any company, so having multiple shops developing concepts for a single brand can help the marketer in the long run. That kind of relationship can only work if all parties act collegially, which is often easier said than done. This is Hollywood and Madison Avenue, remember? People tend to compete and want to take credit for ideas so they can justify themselves to their clients. At the same time, the more-is-more strategy could confuse a marketplace that’s already tough to navigate. Finding the right person to say yes to a project can be difficult. Getting that person to say yes is even harder. Add in multiple yes-men -- a number of people, both inside and outside the brands, charged with doing the same job –- and you’ve got the reason why most branded entertainment deals never materialize.

5. Nordstrom Launches Silverscreen Web Offering

The Deal: Upscale retailer Nordstrom launched a branded entertainment site called, created by Publicis Groupe's Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis, featuring entertainment such as music videos from '80s artists the Go-Gos and Culture Club with audio remixed by the likes of Fatboy Slim. Added into the classic footage are models wearing Nordstrom clothing.

The Goal: Nordstrom execs said they wanted to appeal to the retailer’s online shoppers and draw in new customers with a hip, pop culture-centric presence.

Why It Doesn't Work: In order to view the “branded entertainment channel,” surfers must download software for an interactive media player. Once they’ve done that, they have access to video clips, merchandise previews and a “mixing room” to create music. Consumers who don’t want to download the software can see abbreviated versions of the offerings. E-mails went out to customers in Nordstrom’s database inviting them to download the software. But why bother? The home page is the least dynamic, least hip site we’ve seen in quite some time. And if the target is current Nordstrom loyalists, the site misses them by using a strange amalgam of '80s icons and contemporary artists that seem to have nothing to do with one another or with the retailer. If the site is after younger women and teens -- who wouldn’t know or care if Boy George were standing in front of them -- it’s failed there, too.

Bottom Line: Consumers don’t want to download media players to view content that doesn’t appeal to them. We expected so much more from Fallon, which was behind groundbreaking short film projects for BMW and
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