Hollywood Discovers the Real Meaning of the Word Marketing

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Here's how the music business used to work." This was Jimmy Iovine, in mirrored sunglasses and baseball cap, leaning into a microphone in a hotel ballroom hard by the Pacific Ocean. "The label was run by an entrepreneur. And his friend, who knew nothing about business but liked music, was the marketing guy."

This was as true in the music biz five years ago as it was 50. It could accurately be said of Hollywood overall, from labels to film studios to TV networks. The folks who held marketing titles at those places typically had exactly nothing in common with a marketing director at, say, Procter & Gamble.

That it's no longer true-or no longer as true-is in part due to Iovine, who runs Interscope/Geffen/A&M. He recognized early that music marketing needed to be more sophisticated and that partnerships with the ad industry, done right, could benefit both sides. Iovine saw marketing as a tool to combat piracy and overcome some of the built-in idiocies of the recording industry's business model.

Iovine is a leader. He was an engineer, age 21, on Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" album. In the 30 years since (yes, 30; makes you feel old, no?) he has been one of the most successful producers in the business, advancing the careers of artists from U2 to Eminem. So it's no surprise that other labels take their cue from him.

This newfound marketing savvy is apparent in every Hollywood corridor. Even TV studio and network marketing departments are run-gasp!-by people with marketing backgrounds who have no need to convince themselves that their business is entirely unique from the marketing of toothbrushes or automobiles or french fries.

These execs have become a lot more sophisticated about how they go to market with their own products (summer box-office slump aside). And they've become a lot more open to branded-entertainment alliances-what Ad Age calls Madison & Vine.

There are a handful of unsavory L.A. con artists-er, middlemen-for whom this is bad news. They exploited the language barrier between East and West coast, positioning themselves as trusted guides to help marketers negotiate the dark alleys of Hollywood without getting their pockets picked by ruthless entertainment executives.

Sorry, guys, services no longer needed. Go back to peddling maps to the stars' homes on Beverly Hills street corners.

Madison and Vine speak the same language, and it's not just the suits. The talent side, long painted as resistant to such collaborations, accepts branded entertainment, seeing a way to offset production costs, extend marketing budgets and tap new distribution and audiences.

Such L.A. kings as Iovine, Jeff Katzenberg and Ben Silverman insist that writers, directors, recording artists and actors get it. Although no one yet can give me a good answer as to why it hasn't yet come to scripted TV in a significant way or when it will.

(Leslie Moonves of CBS told me more than a year ago that it was inevitable: "The creative people are finally coming around that it's not sacrilegious ... that a can of Coke on the table [is] not destroying their artistic integrity." "Artistic integrity" being the most hollow two words in Hollywood, in any case. After "Paris Hilton." But I digress.)

Mad Ave.'s Hollywood envy has always been apparent, and its embrace of branded entertainment is real. Big brands are setting aside up to 5% of ad budgets to play in the space and are developing sophisticated ways to measure return on those investments.

Vine had been the reluctant dance partner. But the support of Iovine and other Hollywood royalty speaks to the entertainment industry's willingness (eagerness, even?) to make the marriage work.

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