As exciting as I think it is, branded entertainment is still very much the “wild west” of marketing. It’s chock full of various approaches, various levels of strategic thinking and lots of snake-oil salesmen who claim to have a cure for what’s ailing many a brand marketer and his or her brand.
So it was with great anticipation that I read Scott Donaton’s Madison & Vine: Why the Entertainment and Advertising Industries Must Converge to Survive (McGraw-Hill, 2004). Donaton, the editor of Advertising Age, has had one of the best seats in this new “house” of collaborations between these two pop culture-transforming industries. Madison & Vine is a fascinating and thoughtful exploration of the convergence of content (Holllywood) and commerce (the advertising industry and, hence, brand marketers). The book traces the history of this sometimes-uneasy collaboration, the market forces that makes such efforts necessary, examples of poor executions, as well as a look at some of the more colorful players in this every-changing space. And in an area where the rules are rewritten daily, Donaton offers some sensible guidelines for brand marketers who are giving serious consideration to committing time and marketing dollars to this new frontier.
Via e-mail, Donaton shared some additional thoughts on this ever-evolving space:
What segment of the content industry (music, film, TV, videogames, etc.) seems to be best responding to the pressure to reinvent itself?
I'd have to say the music industry, after several years of hand-wringing over illicit downloads and sliding CD sales, has gotten very proactive about dealing with its long-term issues. The answer isn't to sue your customers, even if that did have some effect. The answer is to explore new methods of distribution and marketing, and to forge alliances that help you to do that. Whether it's through deals with Apple, the film studios, burger chains, car companies or videogame creators, music labels are now aggressively doing just that.
Although this seems to be very pervasive on television, it's still not being done particularly well in most instances, and there's still too much resistance from old-line sales people who feel threatened by these new technologies. So TV is dealing with it, but it's not yet embracing it or even accepting it as an issue that's not going away. They're still hoping Congress will outlaw the DVR or that the technology won't catch on with the mainstream. That's dangerous thinking.
Is there a common thread that unites the brands that seem to be most willing to take the plunge and explore this intersection of content and commerce?
The innovation surprisingly is coming from big mainstream companies such as Coca-Cola, Ford and American Express. That's heartening in a way because giants don't usually move quickly. But in this case they're on the leading edge mostly because they have marketing budgets that run into the hundreds of millions and even billions, so they can take risks and explore alternatives without disrupting the marketing they need to do to move product today.
Do you have a sense of where the best intermediaries are coming from, i.e, from ad/marketing agencies, talent agencies, TV, music?
The truth is the middlemen seem to be playing a temporary role in all of these areas, in some cases trying to make the process seem scarier than it is. It's only when companies integrate it into their own operations that they're really succeeding. That said, media agencies are doing their best to adapt, while creative agencies are standing still or, worse, being dismissive of the whole thing.
Do you see the practice of branded entertainment developing only as quickly as measurability improves? Or, since, the entire area is being driven by changes in consumer behavior, will production continue to outstrip accountability?
It's a great question, and a tricky situation. On the one hand, there's more demand than ever on marketers to prove return on investment and to make every dollar count. It's also true that accountability standards give credibility to disciplines that otherwise might find it hard to come by. At the same time, marketers are being encouraged to experiment and even to fail (and to learn from those failures). It's not an easy balancing act. Makes me kind of glad to be an outside observer instead of a CMO with my job riding on getting the answer right.