Rodrigo Figueroa Reyes

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Three years ago, Rodrigo Figueroa Reyes, a former DDB Latin America creative director, bet branded entertainment would become a key element in advertising.

It's paying off. His FiRe Advertainment-60% owned by Mr. Figueroa Reyes and 40% by Omnicom Group's DDB-now has offices in Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Miami, with 40-plus staffers creating content to help brands stand out in an increasingly fragmented and saturated media market. He plans to open in Bogota and Santiago this year, and possibly elsewhere as he gains more clients.

"Interrupting programming [with a 30-second commercial] just isn't enough. Advertisers have to form part of it at the same or better artistic level as other programs," says the 38-year-old founding partner of FiRe.

His native Argentina has been a hot spot of branded entertainment for years. Production companies routinely enlist advertisers for product and script placement to help cover costs. It's common to see hosts eating yogurt, for example, during a show and news readers talking up a skincare product on a newscast.

This, says Mr. Figueroa Reyes, is annoying, ineffective and not believable. "It could be any brand, it could be a Coca-Cola. It just shows the brand," he says. "It doesn't say anything about its intrinsic values."

His approach is to express these values. An example is "#15," a weekly prime-time series he created for the Argentine unit of Spain's Telefonica. It launched Oct. 31. Mr. Figueroa Reyes is working with some of Argentina's hottest directors and actors, and Endemol is co-producing the $1 million effort. FiRe has created stories that promote the leading telecom's services by showing they're "close, friendly and an important part of life," he says.

A phone call triggers each plot. In one, a man is at his twin brother's wake. A cellphone rings inside the coffin. When he answers, it's his brother's lover, whom he never knew about. He meets her the next day to find himself entwined in a Mafia underworld. Another is about a woman at a call center for helping the lovesick. She takes a call from a man she just met but doesn't know it's him. He's calling for tips on how to woo her.

Mr. Figueroa Reyes believes in generating brand awareness and loyalty without an obligation to purchase, so consumers can choose a brand because they want it, because it provides "good times. It's not `Hey, I'm this brand; if you buy me, then I'll make you cool. If you don't, then I don't even want to say hi to you.' "

FiRe has more programs in the pipeline-plus events, musicals, plays and a feature film-for brands like Clorox, McDonald's, Nokia, Philips and Volkswagen.

For a Mexican non-profit group dedicated to raising awareness about water scarcity, FiRe recently put signs above public sinks saying, "To use, deposit 50 pesos [about $4.60]." It also installed 20-foot-high water fountains and wrote "Thanks for not wasting water" on dirty cars.

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