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Media & Technology: New Twist on Old Idea Bolsters Ad Firm

New Twist on Old Idea Bolsters Ad Firm


Staff Reporter

Brent Stafford and Michael Malone have been traveling between Los Angeles and New York preaching a message they believe could help pull advertising out of its worst slump in decades.

The key, say these two development executives from the West Coast office of Alliance, the entertainment marketing division of ad giant Grey Worldwide, is “integrated marketing.”

A new name for an old idea, integrated advertising makes a brand part of the show’s content, a common practice in the early days of television when network programming included “The Texaco Star Theater” and “The Colgate Comedy Hour.”

These days, the concept is more sophisticated than a sponsor slapping its logo on the name of the show. It also goes beyond product placements where a bottle of dishwashing liquid is seen on a kitchen counter.

Among Alliance’s integrated advertising successes is a barter agreement between J. Crew and the WB Network in which a catalog features the cast of the television show “Dawson’s Creek.” Alliance also was involved in “Pantene Pro-Voice,” a cable program based on a national talent competition that was promoted through retail and magazine partners.

“Our mantra has been, things are changing in Hollywood and brands have more leverage than they’ve ever had before,” said Stafford, Alliance’s development manager for entertainment.

The practice is especially attractive in the recession since it defrays production costs for networks while giving companies many of which have been forced to slash their ad budgets a potentially cheaper and, some say, more effective way to promote their products.

Integrating products

Alliance generates marketing dollars while also helping its parent provide media-buying opportunities. “We can help bring dollars to the networks that are from a sponsor that doesn’t currently spend money on national television,” Stafford said.

A division of ad agency Interpublic Group and NBC worked out a deal this year in which Coca Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Lowe’s and Marriott International funded the reality show “Lost,” in exchange for ad time and the opportunity to outfit contestants with their products. “Lost” contestants drank Dasani water, a Coca Cola product, and used Johnson & Johnson items in their first-aid kits. Similarly, Nokia cell phones were used by actors on ABC’s “Alias,”

“‘Integrated’ seems to be the buzzword these days,” said Michael Benson, senior vice president of marketing, advertising and promotions for ABC.

ABC isn’t interested in sharing ownership of its programming but in extending the network’s marketing reach, Benson said. In the “Alias” deal, Nokia sponsored the show’s commercial-free premiere and ran ads before and after it aired. ABC included Nokia in its ads and promotional materials.

Though integrated advertising gives advertisers greater access to viewers, the increasing fragmentation of the audience has some advertisers bypassing television altogether for films, video games and the like. This has forced Grey’s Alliance and other ad agencies to try new things in order to keep clients satisfied.

“Brands have become increasingly suspect about the value of traditional television advertising,” Stafford said.

Developing a model

Alliance is trying to get advertisers and networks to go beyond pure product-placement deals so brands can be incorporated into shows in a seamless manner.

“There’s never been a time in Hollywood when the networks have been more open to discussing these kinds of projects,” Stafford said. “The brands are starting to feel that they’ve got a real opportunity in Hollywood that didn’t exist before because you could only do the large media deals that Coke was doing.”

Companies once shut out by networks because they could not afford expensive media buys attached to “value-added” deals may now find themselves welcomed because the networks are in need of new sources of ad revenues.

Noticing the trend, Seth Bedell and Stuart McLean last year formed Bedell/McLean Branded Entertainment, a Hollywood marketing firm that specializes in “brand-produced” content.

“No matter where you go, you are inundated with messages. I think that has given birth to this latest form of communicating messages,” said Roger Lavery, long-time advertising industry executive and now dean of the communications school at Northern Arizona University.

While there is money to be had, Lavery warned of the dangers in mixing promotion and programming. “The selling is becoming seamless and I think consumers are going to become jaded.”

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