Madison + Vine: Ford ad chief hails content convergence

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A top Ford Motor Co. executive has issued another clarion call to the marketing industry to accept that branded entertainment is key to its future. But Mark Kaline, global media manager coordinating media across Ford brands totaling more than $1 billion in the U.S. alone, also offered a caveat: Programs must be accountable for results.

Branded entertainment is "a signal to media companies that the old model must change," said Mr. Kaline in an April 22 address to the Advertising Women of New York reminiscent of Coca-Cola Co. Chief Operating Officer Steven J. Heyer's keynote to Ad Age's Madison + Vine conference last February. Mr. Kaline said the ad world is at the epicenter of change and quoted his former boss at Interpublic Group of Cos. Lou Schultz, saying, "the most effective way to cope with change is to help create it."

To that end, Mr. Kaline's three-year-old Brand Entertainment Group, which works closely with Ford's brand strategy teams and Ford Motor's media group, has crafted numerous deals such as its multifaceted relationship with "American Idol" on News Corp.'s Fox. Others programs include Ford-branded vehicles appearing in Fox's "24" starring Kiefer Sutherland, and Ford's sponsorship of a Discovery channel special, "Countdown to Kitty Hawk." Currently, Mr. Kaline and the group are soliciting and developing ideas for Ford's F-150 launch.

Mr. Kaline, however, cautioned there is a need to "measure, track and value the things we invest in" from brand-inspired merchandise to product tie-ins with movies to corporate sponsorships of landmark public events or TV shows. He urged potential partners to pitch ideas not only for partnerships and projects, but also metrics and methods for assessing their success. The "tools for measuring this stuff are not all there," he said.

trial and error

Trial and error have taught Mr. Kaline and his crew to be patient. "We are all learning. This is not a perfect science," he said. Even so, the automaker's media budgets are not getting any bigger, and media audiences continue to fragment, "We cannot be afraid to take risks," he said. "We're willing to invest in the right ideas."

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