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View Once-Feared Consumer-Controlled Content as Key to Success

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LOS ANGELES ( -- The latest incarnation of the branded entertainment industry, spawned by the fear of new consumer-controlled communications technologies, is now looking to those very technologies for its ultimate salvation.
Photo: Gilles Mingasson
The third annual Madison + Vine conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel brought together branded entertainment professionals from around the country.
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That irony -- and the many new opportunities it suggests -- were the buzz of the third annual Advertising Age Madison & Vine conference held this week at the Beverly Hills Hotel here.

In panel sessions and corridor chat, official speakers and attendees discussed the many new available means for broadcasting electronic content across a broadening range of platforms -- and the potential room for branded messages in those content streams.

Skilled use of technologies
A number of panelists flatly predicted that flexible thinking and skillful use of technologies from TiVo and Internet downloads to cell phones, BlackBerries, satellite radio and portable wireless gaming consoles are the missing links that will bring brands and consumers closer together than they have ever been.

For instance, Geoffrey Frost, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Motorola and the day's keynote speaker, suggested that Silicon Valley needs to be an equal partner going forward.

"We need to recognize there's a third person in our marital bed -- technology," Mr. Frost said. "Let's rename our union Madison + Vine + Valley and recognize that technology is enabling our audiences to do what they really want to do whenever, wherever."

He suggested that the three groups -- marketers, advertising agencies and technology companies -- need to focus their energies on creating high-quality content that consumers will welcome into their lives, he said. Creative stars will emerge in the wireless arena just as David E. Kelley, Jerry Bruckheimer and Dick Wolf did in film and TV, he said.

Content pulled by consumer
"Imagine that what we pushed to the consumer was pulled," Mr. Frost.

Photo: Gilles Mingasson
A panel session at Wednesday's Madison + Vine conference.
said, "because it was not intrusive but invited and entertaining and great."

Advancing technology will give more breadth to live events, further engaging consumers, said Bruce Eskowitz, president of Clear Channel Entertainment Properties. The company this summer will activate a wireless network at its venues so fans can do things such as text message requests to the band and download snippets from the performances almost immediately. Clear Channel hosts some 33,000 events a year.

"It's about speed and timing and how you enhance the experience for the consumer," Mr. Eskowitz said. Live shows will be filmed for later TV and Web airings, DVD releases and other exposure. "It's not just about the event, but the extension of it" that technology will allow, he said.

Everything from magazine content to video games will increasingly be delivered to consumers via wireless networks, panelists said. Mr. Frost, who previewed a new Motorola cell phone that acts like an iPod, said that bite-sized bits of content will become the new currency.

Future of branded entertainment
Much of yesterday's conference looked ahead to the future of branded .

Photo: Gilles Mingasson
One issue underscored at the sessions was that marketers still have a difficult time navigating entertainment companies' often convoluted structures, where it's unclear who the decision-makers are.
entertainment. Morning sessions, taking into account the few years that branded entertainment has under its belt, asked: Now that entertainment execs and advertisers have been working together, how can they make the relationship more meaningful?

If there are no clearly stated goals up front, there can be no solid measure of success, panelists said. In general, the players are still grappling with how to gauge the return on investment for integration deals.

"We want to know if the partnership expanded our reach and helped us break through in places we wouldn't ordinarily be," said Anne Globe, head of promotions and consumer products at Hollywood studio DreamWorks.

Marketers have to be forceful in telling entertainment partners what they need, and Hollywood executives must live up to their promises on such key components as access to film footage for ad spots, Ms. Globe said.

Daunting bureaucracy
Marketers still have a tough time navigating entertainment companies' often convoluted structures, where it's unclear who the decision-makers are. Studios are trying to address that by moving toward a single point of contact for such deals.

Steve Tihanyi, General Motors Corp.'s general director for marketing alliances and regional operations, said the word "partnership" is used too loosely.

He also said he takes exception to paying for advertising time on TV, paying part of the production costs of some shows, and for integration fees on top. "I have a fundamental issue with that," he said. "It's not an endless supply of money, and we'll be very picky about the way we spend it."

Marketers are willing to take the risk in branded entertainment as long as they have something to show for their effort.

Willingness to fail
"You can't measure everything down to an exact sale," Mr. Tihanyi said. "Sometimes it's just about a lift in opinion and consideration. But you have to be prepared to fail."

A promotion in the '90s for the fox sci-fi series The X-Files racked up 60,000 test drives and 9,000 car sales, Mr. Tihanyi said, while a current link to MGM's Be Cool is geared more to putting Cadillac in a hip light.

The days are long gone when Home Depot executives were thrilled to see a billboard in the background of a TV show. The marketer recently made a multiproject deal with reality show uber-producer Mark Burnett (Survivor) for brand integration into a number of the producer's series.

"It's critical to look for new and unique ways to reach the consumer," said John Costello, Home Depot's executive vice president for marketing and merchandising and chief marketing officer. "As entertainment is a more important part of people's lives, there are opportunities to integrate in relevant ways."

Those brands without big ad budgets can still play the game, panelists said, because they could offer such things as customer loyalty or unique real estate for promotions.

Going to Hollywood producers
There's a growing trend of marketers going directly to Hollywood producers for brand integration into shows instead of bartering such deals through the networks. It's an ongoing hot button issue, with network ad sales teams trying to re-take control of the situation.

"You spend money with the network so why not leverage that relationship," said Marianne Gambelli, executive vice president of sales and marketing for NBC Universal. "The producer has to be involved, but we have to make it live."

Marketers are willing to surround their integration with TV ad buys, Mr. Tihanyi said, so networks don't lose, but they want better access to the content creators.

"I'm not sure what the real fear is," he said. "I like to be as far upstream as possible. We're not going to change the way we operate just because people have concerns about it."

The key to a smooth deal is communication, said Irvin Gotlieb, CEO of Group M, a WPP Group network of media-buying and-planning agencies.

"We have to get more grown up about how we approach this," he said. "We need to come together earlier so no one gets screwed in the process."

Examples of bad brand integration
Everyone is still struggling with how to balance marketer needs with creative mandates. There have been good and bad examples of brand integration, panelists said.

"Our industry has abused the process," said Jon Kamen, chairman-CEO of "The good idea has to come first, and then you see where you can attach a brand and sell it to an appropriate outlet. We're avoiding the plug-in concept."

"It all comes down to a great idea," said Katie Lacey, vice president at Pepsi-Cola North America.

The hotbed for integration will remain reality programming, but marketers and producers are increasingly putting deals together for scripted shows. But the players need to forge deeper relationships than what's on screen, panelists said.

"The more we can be tied together off-air the better," said Ben Silverman, CEO of production house Reveille Entertainment. "Will you see the show as a cornerstone of your marketing?"

But branded entertainment isn't for everybody.

'Content envy'
"There's content envy on the part of clients who aren't in the game," Mr. Gotlieb said, "but some of them would have a hard time benefiting from brand integration."

Selling out? Even artists who shied away from brand sponsorship in the past have changed their tune.

"When Bob Dylan did Victoria's Secret, the walls came down," said Steve Stout, chairman of Translation. "Everybody's open-minded now."

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