Buyers Warm Up to Branding Deals

Jan 17, 2005  •  Post A Comment

While branded entertainment deals have a long way to go in becoming regular components of media plans, major advertisers and their agencies are loosening requirements to accommodate such elements into their overall marketing efforts.

Branded entertainment has had a hard time making its way onto the all-important media plan because it can’t be measured the same way that traditional TV, radio and print media can. Specifically, branded entertainment deals such as product integration can’t be measured in terms of traditional gross ratings points, reach, frequency and other media planning parameters.

“I don’t know how you put it in as a line item in a media plan,” said Steve Grubbs, CEO of Omnicom Group’s PHD USA, New York. “You can’t put it in a flow chart because it’s not about GRPs. It’s the anti-GRP. GRPs are about reach and frequency. Branded entertainment is about impact, brand identity and brand development.”

PHD client Banana Republic recently had a multiepisode branded entertainment deal with the Bravo reality show “Project Runway.” The show heavily used Banana Republic’s stores in footage and mentioned the store’s name many times. But Mr. Grubbs said this wasn’t part of the media plan.

“It wasn’t written into the media plan,” he said. “They did the content deal [with the producer] before the media deal [with Bravo].” Media plans are typically a roadmap for an advertiser’s media buy. But when it comes to branded entertainment deals, the reverse is true, Mr. Grubbs said. “Media buyers have more access to the branded entertainment idea than planners do.”

Other agencies have a different point of view. Omnicom Group’s media agency OMD USA is moving away from media plans and toward “communication plans,” which can incorporate components such as public relations, direct mail and product integration elements.

“The plan is to communicate with our consumers to buy more products,” said Ray Warren, managing director of OMD USA. “It’s not about buying more media.”

Mr. Warren said it isn’t necessary to affix specific gross ratings points to the plan for branded entertainment. “There is not a line item [for branded entertainment],” he said. “If you are the print guy, you take [the plan] with you to your meeting with Time Warner. If you are national broadcast director, you take it to your meeting with ABC. If you are the outdoor guy, you take it to your meeting with Viacom [Outdoor] or Clear Channel.”

Media agency Mediaedge:cia is also moving to the broader communication plan. Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer for Mediaedge, said this is because advertisers are using more nontraditional media these days: the Internet, music and blogs, for example. As a result, he said, the traditional media-TV, print, radio and so forth-could see lower ad revenues.

Right now, Mr. Scanzoni said, branded entertainment is more of an enhancement to the TV part of the plan, not listed as a separate line item and not something that can be measured with traditional research tools.

“We have done a fair amount of our own research,” he said, “and found out that the more you generate interactively, the better.” Advertisers with interactive deals get, in some cases, a better form of research.

Mediaedge is a proponent of interactive branded entertainment deals such as the one it created for its client AT&T, which is the official text-messaging company for the big Fox hit “American Idol,” due to start its fourth season later this month. Consumers use text messaging to vote for their favorite singers-and AT&T can accurately report exactly how many consumers are using it.

For those more traditional media agencies, however, the media plan is still the gold standard because it relies on traditional media measurement.

“There’s an old adage: Anything that gets measured gets bought,” said Tim Hanlon, senior VP of emerging contacts for media agency Starcom Media-Vest. “But today’s current system of measurement is not equipped to handle the wrinkle of branded entertainment.”

In the future, Mr. Hanlon said, set-top boxes and other technologies will offer advertisers precise measurement of the actual number of viewers rather than the estimate Nielsen Media Research currently offers.

Mr. Hanlon also sees changes for the media plan itself. “The media plan is such a blunt instrument,” he said. “Media plans now need to accommodate a polyglot of media. For instance, how do you accommodate for blogs, wireless and other fast-moving touch points?”

While Nielsen and other measuring companies are delving into some areas of branded entertainment, media agencies are doing their own work as well.

Media agency MPG USA, New York, is working on a research tool for its clients that it will unveil in the coming months. Richard Linnett, director of MPG Entertainment, said, “We have been developing a system since September that takes the subjective elements of branded entertainment and tries to quantify it using it as a basis of comparison between branded entertainment and traditional media advertising.”

Previously, other agencies, including Deutsch, announced joint venture deals with third-party research companies to measure product integration on TV.

Deutsch’s new Media Bridge Entertainment group, using media research developed by iTVX, a product-placement research company, negotiates product-placement deals based on the results it can deliver to advertisers. The research assigns a specific ad value when a product is mentioned or shown on TV.