The Man Who Brought UPS to Nascar and Geico Cavemen to Hollywood

Steve Humble Is Martin Agency's Go-To Guy for Branded Entertainment

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NEW YORK -- Steve Humble has led Martin Agency's broadcast-production department for some time but recently picked up another title: senior VP-managing director, Brand First Entertainment. From the helm of this 10-month-old branded-content division, Mr. Humble has become the go-to man for making ideas happen. The TLC "Life Lessons" statuettes? Mr. Humble found the manufacturer. He and his small team were also behind the use of UPS's whiteboard during CBS's fall football coverage.
Steve Humble: 'We create ideas and go and find ways to make it happen.'
Oh, and he also had a little something to do with that rising star of the small screen, the Geico Caveman. How do you approach branded content for your clients? "Our philosophy for branded content is that it is the opportunity to bring a stronger brand message through deeper audience engagement. We look at branded content as an accelerator for brands -- hopefully it can accelerate their existing advertising and existing message. We have a couple of general functions. First, we look at creating things inside the agency. Most briefs we have, clients aren't asking for content ideas, but we typically come up with content ideas regardless. Like UPS. We asked ourselves: How do we take the whiteboard campaign idea and push that out into the American psyche in other ways so [consumers] see it in other ways and they can engage with in other ways? We create ideas and go and find ways to make it happen. We contact TV shows and networks and movie studios. Our other function is to act as a liaison between Hollywood and New York and the TV-show market for the agency. So, was it you who decided the Geico Caveman should have his own TV show or was that Hollywood calling? "That was us looking for other platforms. It was [writer] Joe Lawson's idea to say it should be a TV show; he wrote scripts, and then we got Will Speck and Josh Gordon -- who directed the [caveman] commercials [and the Will Ferrell comedy 'Blades of Glory'] -- onboard and then got hooked up with Management 360 in Hollywood to help us pitch networks. That's obviously our biggest success so far." Is all branded content equal? "We divide it up in three different ways. It starts with product placement. Product placement is probably the cheapest and least investment for a client, but is also probably the least engaging. Then there's storyline integration, and then there's original content. Those are the three areas we look to play in. We've done product placement for Seiko on multiple MTV shows. We've done some product placement for Olympus on 'Entourage,' and we've done several things for Thomasville Furniture. That's probably the least engaging for consumers, but, depending on the client, it's still a smart move. For Seiko, being on MTV was great because that's a market they don't feel like they connect with very well, and Seiko tends not to be top-of-mind as a watch brand for young people. ... "As for storyline integration, we've had the UPS truck in an EA Sports Nascar game. UPS is in the real Nascar, so they are targeting a consumer who already knows them, but being in the game is just really to help the cool factor for UPS and their profile. And then we've also created a show opener and interstitials for a Super Bowl [pre-game show] with Phil Simms and the cavemen. We also put [the cavemen] on the red carpet during the Oscars." Do you get a lot of pressure from clients to prove the value of these placements? "It depends on the client, and we're trying to find meaningful ways to measure this sort of stuff. That's the lag in the whole branded-content realm -- people are trying to find meaningful ways to measure this. Ultimately, the clients still want that, and as they spend more money in that area, they will want to feel more comfortable knowing that their message is getting out there in a meaningful way." What's your biggest challenge in the branded-content realm right now? "The hardest part of this whole thing is the level of failure. Typically, as agency folks, we get an assignment from a client, we work on it, we present great work, and then we go and get to execute it. But it's a numbers-percentage game in the content world. We come up with great ideas all the time, but there are so many reasons that they die. Sometimes it's the clients, but sometimes it's just working out the deal with the TV show or the network. We had a great movie integration that would have been fantastic, but in the end the actor killed the idea. Everybody loved it: The movie studio loved it, the client loved it, we loved it, but in the end the actor said no. It's just getting used to that and keeping at it."
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