Why GM, Dr Pepper and Other Marketers Are Starting From Scratch

Viacom Unit Lends Expertise on Millennials and Is now Expanding to Add Insight on Moms

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Utilizing expertise culled from decades of defining pop culture at MTV , Viacom's little known Scratch unit has been consulting the auto and soft-drink industries on everything from design and marketing to how to train and retain millennial employees. Now Scratch is expanding into the financial-services industry and moving into consulting work around kids and moms.

Sun Drop rolled out with Scratch
Sun Drop rolled out with Scratch

"We don't fit in a box and don't feel the need to," said Ross Martin, exec VP at Viacom and founder of Scratch. "Some people want to call us the 'a' word: agency. Some people want to call us a consultancy, some people want to call us a research and insights firm. I don't really care what you call us, all I know is we are doing really progressive work that takes advantage of the things our company does best."

Scratch started in 2008 with just five employees as an experiment to harness the power of MTV in a new way, and has proven that media companies can find innovative ways to expand their business. "We are MTV . Every minute, every day, around the world, we are judged by if we can attract and retain young people -- that 's our core business," Mr. Martin said.

Scratch's clients are not required to buy media from Viacom's ad sales, though many do. Structurally, Scratch is a separate entity from ad sales, reporting directly to the chief operating officer of Viacom Media Networks. Since every client receives personalized service, there's no one way each relationship is structured, with deals ranging from retainers to direct fees to revenue-sharing agreements. Scratch declined to break out revenue.

The unit's most recent brand study ranked the financial-services industry as the most "unloved" by millennials among 15 categories studied. "We will be looking at how millennials are transforming relationships banks have with their consumers, how they use credit cards and mobile banking," Mr. Martin said.

General Motors partnered with Scratch, utilizing its expertise for everything from how to attract and empower young people in their workforce to how to design and engineer cars for millennials. With Dr Pepper, Scratch helped turn Sundrop into a national brand and quadrupled its business via a multimedia effort.

Scratch is now branching out beyond millennials, coinciding with the Oct. 1 launch of Nickelodeon's NickMom.

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