Arden Doss Discusses His Company's Groundbreaking Work

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Who: Arden Doss, a managing director at the Los Angeles offices of entertainment marketing firm Propaganda GEM.

Why you need to know him: Over the years, Propaganda has evolved into one of the leading product-placement shops, and Mr. Goss has become one of the go-to guys when it comes to integrating brands such as Audi, Nokia, Panasonic and Casio in entertainment properties.

Arden Doss of Propaganda GEM put Audi in movies such as 'I, Robot.'

Credentials: Before joining Propaganda, Mr. Doss previously worked as a script development analyst and producer’s assistant at Rastar Productions; in the development department at Roger Corman’s Concorde/New Horizons film production entity; and as a reader for the writer’s and director’s labs at The Sundance Institute.

Who are Propaganda’s clients? “Our high-profile clients include Audi, Nokia, Panasonic, Lacoste, Bang & Olufsen, Tag Heuer, Bulgari and Casio.”

What does Propaganda do for them? “We evaluate over 600 feature films, 169 TV shows, the top 100 music videos and video games each and every year on our clients' behalf. Put another way, that's 6,000 hours worth of entertainment content per annum, which is more hours than the average person is awake. We strategically develop integrations that are mutually beneficial to both our clients and to production. However, our execution goes beyond script-to-screen, as we then evaluate the net effect of the activity and are able to produce an entire promotional platform around it.”

What kind of placements has your company recently brokered? “For our automotive clients, high-profile film placements we’ve recently brokered include Lamborghini in 'Batman Begins' and Audi in 'Transporter 2.' We, of course, have a slew of exciting stuff coming up this year –- check back with us in summer ’06!”

You've done a lot of work for Audi, placing it in some very high-profile projects over the years. What's the entertainment strategy for the company? “Audi's strategy can be found in each and every facet of their business. ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ literally translated means advancement through technology. This philosophy of ‘never follow’ permeates through their placement selection. We are constantly challenging ourselves to find ways to place Audi where you might not expect them -- all the while making it seem like it was a place they always belonged.”

What kind of results have you seen because of it? “Well, for ‘Mission: Impossible II,’ for instance, we provided a never before seen prototype which was later launched as the Audi TT. ‘I, Robot’ is another example of a ground-breaking achievement in many ways. Up until that point, futuristic cars were generally created entirely by the filmmakers, then badged by deep-pocketed automakers. The Audi RSQ sports coupe that was made for ‘I, Robot’ was the first time a car company built a vehicle specifically for a movie. It was important to the Audi designers that the RSQ not only fit within the universe the filmmakers envisioned, but that it had the essential Audi genes. It was a chance for Audi to make a design statement. For films like ‘Ronin’ and ‘Transporter 2,’ it was an opportunity to show Audis doing what they do best -- drive.”

Do placements actually pay off for car companies? What kind of value can it provide? “Entertainment marketing is an inexpensive and vital part of a successful marketing mix. For a fraction of the cost of producing a 30-second television commercial, not including the cost to air that commercial, your product can play a compelling part within the content. And that content lives on indefinitely or pops up in other areas. As an example, one local news station reporting from the current L.A. Auto Show mentioned our Lamborghini placement in ‘Batman Begins.’ Auto manufacturers especially benefit from placements, as their products are very identifiable and much more difficult to obscure from view, unlike, for example, a watch covered by a sleeve or a cellphone by someone's hand. You don't have to get up really close to identify an Audi. Most people can see the shape of the car or two out of the four rings and know it's an Audi.”

What about other brands? Do they get the same value out of it? Does it work for every category? “For a brand like our client Nokia, being integrated into the content enables them to not only showcase their phones, but what their phones can do as well. I remember the writers of ‘The X-Files’ commenting how they could never have written the series without cellphones. Without them, there would have been no way to separate the two leads, put one in jeopardy and have the other have the same information to save them. Nokia nailed the first branded trifecta on ‘The X-Files,’ with a starring role in the series, feature film and video game. You would think that a service that doesn't really have a fixed or tangible good would be problematic to place, but, in truth, you see plenty of Google, FedEx and Netflix placements out there. In short, entertainment marketing in general, and product placement in particular, is a very cheap method to reach a vast audience. No brand is too small.”

What lessons have you learned over the years when it comes to product placement? “The cyclical nature of the business. When television arrived in the 1950s, there were proclamations that film was dead. In the 1980s it was that the sitcom was dead, then along came ‘The Cosby Show.’ Twenty-five years later, we're still having these same silly discussions. Companies poised to embrace the potential of each new vector and see it for what it is -- yet another option in their placement portfolio -- will benefit the most. With each new black box, whether it’s a DVD, iPod or hologram, consumers will pay for content multiple times in a variety of formats.

What are some challenges that still exist when putting deals together? “The viewpoint of entertainment marketing being a new business. Brands sponsoring entertainment is nothing new -- soap operas of the 1950s earned their nickname because they were brought to us by the soap companies. Hallmark's pulling out of the branded entertainment space is an interesting indicator of the inflationary direction these deals have headed. Overcrowding is another problem. Audiences today are very savvy; they know when they are being sold something, and often resent it. They have also adapted amazing filters. They have to, as they are under a constant bombardment for their undivided attention. The average film has 50 products within it -- roughly one every two minutes.”

Where do you see the area of branded entertainment and product placement headed in the near future? “The paradigm shift to online will be interesting, as we're seeing an adjustment in the habits of viewers. The mantra of ‘what you want, when you want it, where you want it’ is being partially fulfilled by this online space. For instance, when Jon Stewart ripped into CNN's 'Crossfire' hosts, the original audience on TV was around 500,000. Yet more than 5 million people viewed that segment online. Also more people read their news online than in newspapers. This leads to the convergence device in your living room. Whether it's a smart TV or a dumb PC handling your media, it will be online. It's not impossible to imagine a day where you see an outfit you like on an actor on TV, you pause, click on it and buy it. Suddenly, advertisers will be able to tailor messages based on individual viewing and shopping habits.

"This is already being done in video games. The next-generation of consoles not only promises online battles between friends and family, but online shopping malls as well. Now something that catches your eye in the virtual world can be yours in the real world with a simple click. Likewise, the next generation of high-definition DVD players has an online component built in. Want to download a subtitle in a different language? Done. Like one of the trailers for another film and want to watch it? Done.”

What do you do on your downtime? “Run. I serve as a pace leader and mentor for a local marathon training club, the L.A. Leggers. I also serve as a pace leader for ClubRunLA for Nike, helping new and seasoned runners alike accomplish goals they thought weren't possible. The hardest step for any runner is the first one out the door. These two groups allow me to share in the joy of taking those first steps, each and every week. It's also how I met my fiance.”
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