San Fran shops look to long form

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"Everyone thinks TiVo is advertising's anti-Christ," said Greg Wilson, founder of agency Red Ball Tiger. "We think it's the renaissance."

It's also a rebirth for the San Francisco independent and a handful of West Coast agencies trying to rise from the dot-com ashes by creating a new model for the dawning advertising age of personal video recorders. Red Ball Tiger is partnering with TiVo to find clients to buy its four-minute ad slots, known as showcases, repositioning for a future of opt-in, viewer-controlled non-mass media in which agencies are accountable for their services and paid accordingly.

"What intrigued us" about Red Ball Tiger, said Brodie Keast, senior VP-general manager at TiVo, "is that we have a shared vision of the future and they have nothing to lose."

Mr. Wilson defines the agency as a film studio that makes movies about brands. He said the longer-form digital ads, and the Internet media to which they can easily be transferred, offer marketers an opportunity to get willing viewers' undivided attention. "If you're good at what you do, you keep them watching."

He's certain enough to rewrite his rate card. Clients set a production budget and Red Ball Tiger's production company writes and produces the film. The agency is compensated on the number of viewers and the length of time they view the ad, as determined by TiVo data.

That flies in the face of the current agency-compensation system, in which clients pay for commercials whether or not they work. "Failure is no longer lucrative," said Bob Ravisio, Red Ball Tiger's business director.

Other San Francisco startups are looking to the new era of advertising, among them Banjo Strategic Entertainment, formed by two former principals of Blazing Paradigm. Highly regarded San Francisco creative Bob Kerstetter, a former partner in Black Rocket Euro RSCG, has formed a hybrid production company/agency called Lushadelic. Gauger & Santy is producing a TV program using content from Time Inc.'s Sunset magazine that makes its debut April 12 on San Francisco CBS affiliate KPIX and is expected to run later in Phoenix and other West Coast markets.

"For small- and mid-size shops, it's increasingly important to offer new and more services beyond the traditional advertising agency," said Dan Pearlman, co-CEO and co-managing director, Bob Wolf Partners/TPG, Los Angeles.

Red Ball Tiger believes its pay-per-viewer formula is superior to solutions traditional agencies are embracing (like product integration), which, they claim, help to maintain the big-agency status quo, and serve Hollywood's need to subsidize spiraling moviemaking costs with funds from marketers.

Red Ball Tiger is the only agency that has a "partnership" contract with TiVo, although TiVo works independently with other agencies and marketers, said Mr. Keast. He said TiVo offers a commission or a discount to any agency that brings in business and is still experimenting with how to charge for its services. "We're not paying Red Ball Tiger anything and they're not paying us."

not rocket science

So far, Messrs. Wilson and Ravisio have sent out about 50 solicitations to companies ranging from airlines to financial-services marketers to cosmetics outfits. They have yet to sign a client, but have had responses from 20 potential prospects and made six in-person presentations.

It's not always an easy sell. Deron Triff, VP-digital ventures at PBS, said the network has used TiVo showcases and finds them "an effective way to sell content." But he said PBS produced spots for the showcase via its in-house agency. "It's not rocket science."

Unlike a large number of San Francisco shops that expanded during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, Red Ball Tiger grew primarily with one client, The Men's Wearhouse. That client, however, recently said it was moving to a direct-marketing model and would not produce any more TV ads this year.

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