Marketers Grab Wheel in Course Down Madison + Vine

Exclusive Survey: Execs at Top Advertisers Want More Control of Content

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Advertisers want to seize control of branded entertainment.

That finding emerged from a survey of senior-level executives from blue-chip marketers including Volkswagen, Burger King, MasterCard, Apple, Coca-Cola, Nestle and Anheuser-Busch conducted exclusively for Advertising Age by Bellison & Co. A full 41% of those surveyed said advertisers themselves, not media-buying firms or Hollywood talent agencies, will drive growth in the branded entertainment space in the coming years.

Moreover, 53% reported that their own internal groups will direct the projects, running counter to marketers' hiring binges of the past several years, where they've brought in a raft of talent agencies and other outside firms to help navigate brand integrations.

The survey was conducted among more than 100 marketers gathered recently in Southern California for a conference hosted by Universal Studios Partnerships, a group that marries advertisers with NBC Universal entertainment properties such as feature films "King Kong" and "Curious George" and theme parks Universal Studios Hollywood and Orlando. More than half of those responding-53%-said they want to create their own content and are willing to finance branded entertainment.

"We're starting to see more marketers who feel this way," said Stephanie Sperber, executive VP-Universal Studios Partnerships. "They want to own the content because there's so much they can do with it across media platforms. There are so many efficiencies associated with it."

Volkswagen, for one, is in that camp. "When you create original content, it might not be a blockbuster movie, but there are more opportunities to distribute that content beyond the big screen or TV," said Mike Grollman, general manager-global entertainment marketing, who attended the conference and took part in the survey. "You can explore all the extensions."

Media money has been shifting out of traditional channels such as TV for some time, and those surveyed said they would continue to dip into existing marketing budgets to pay for branded entertainment projects. While 59% said they will reallocate money to cover such deals, 19% said they will put additional dollars into the space.

There's still no precise measure of return on investment in branded entertainment, but 61% of the marketers surveyed said they get involved in such projects to boost sales and buff their images with consumers. They evaluate based on hard data and emotional triggers. Marketers judge brand integration on everything from "sales, consumer awareness and media reporting" to "message relevance," "buzz" and "becoming a positive part of our consumers' conversations."

Marketers want most to be on the Web, with 80% saying they have "high interest" in branded entertainment for that medium, topping the 65% that have "high interest" for TV. Some 16% of marketers said they have "low interest" in feature films for branded-entertainment deals.

"We still need to be convinced that branded entertainment in film will impact consumer behavior," one marketer wrote in the survey. "We need a push."

Finding the right content was listed by 78% of marketers as the top challenge, followed by 34% who said there needs to be better measurement of ROI. Twenty-eight percent said finding the right talent fit and coming to equitable deal terms are major obstacles. Many were concerned with the long development process, which, in the case of films, can take years.

don't exploit me

Marketers clearly are concerned about protecting their interests. "It isn't clear how cost-effective deals will be," one wrote in the survey. "The costs are high, and we don't want to be exploited."

Broader questions about the ad industry still found support for the much-maligned 30-second spot. "It's still powerful, and it's not going away," one marketer wrote, echoing the sentiments of many.

There's broad consensus, though, that change is mandatory. "The traditional spot needs to evolve quickly or it'll become obsolete," one marketer wrote, while another said it "needs to be reinvented."

Marketers across the board talked about their increasingly diverse media mix, saying they're spending more on, mobisodes, blogging, podcasts, in-store media, video games, viral campaigns, interactive TV and, of course, product integration.

"We're investing more of our media budget online and in promotions now than in traditional advertising," one marketer said. Another wrote: "Interactivity is important to us. The ability to track and measure consumer activity is critical."

Making it happen

Key challenges:

* Understanding each other's businesses, objectives

* Creative fit, seamless content integration

* Talent fit

* ROI, lack of measurement, fair deal terms

* Development cycle, getting involved early

Source: Bellinson & Co. Inc.
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