Ogilvy Entertainment is one of the key agency players in the branded entertainment area.

The old guard on Madison Avenue isn’t ready to go completely Hollywood just yet. Though talent and PR agencies like CAA and Edelman Studios are getting into the branded content game, traditional agencies like BBDO, BBH and Ogilvy have been producing branded content for years and are still playing the creative lead on many new projects. We spoke with Doug Scott, president of Ogilvy Entertainment, about some of his agency’s recent work and how Madison Avenue is adapting to change in the branded content business.

Describe Ogilvy Entertainment.
Ogilvy Entertainment is very much focused on brand-funded entertainment. And we’re just starting to get into the creation of some original entertainment as well.

Is the current wave of branded entertainment here to stay?
I don’t think it’s really gone away. If you look at the early days of television and radio, copywriters on Madison Avenue were writing television shows. What is changing is that the agencies recognize that their creatives and the resources they have available to them are really in the business of creating intellectual property for their clients and agency. And we’re starting to put into place a more formal process to enable that. Whether it be us or the Green Room at OMD or Third Act at Digitas, each of us is coming at it from our own positions in marketing. It enables us to not only work with our clients but with the entertainment industry to develop original content that really resonates with the target audience, and if it’s built properly, helps the network or the channel expand its base and reach.

Talk about some of your recent projects.
Recently we completed our second season of the “Business of Innovation” on CNBC, which is for IBM. It’s hosted by Maria Bartiromo and has been very effective in terms of establishing IBM as the innovator’s innovator in the marketplace.

Three episodes have launched for CISCO online called “Digital Cribs,” which is a look at how people use technology in their home for living, learning and playing. We did a documentary film for our own brand titled David Ogilvy: The Original Mad Man, which aired on BBC 4 as part of the airing of Mad Men. It has really helped British viewers better understand what was happening in the world of advertising in that period when Mad Men was set.

We’re going into a third season of programming for Hellman’s and a second season with Bobby Flay. We had a very successful summer with his “Real Food Summer School Project,” and we’ll be coming back with a new program with him next year. And then we’re finishing up a project with DuPont and the Discovery Channel for a program that is being produced by Craig Piligian and Leonardo Di Caprio called “Greensburg, Kansas.” It’s about the rebuilding of Greensburg, which was destroyed by an F5 tornado about a year and two months ago. So the entire town is being rebuilt “green” and there’s a whole host of not only product integration but original content as well as marketing tactics based on DuPont’s involvement, which includes contribution of materials, etc.

How is branded entertainment different than advertising?
The key difference is that advertising is a form of marketing in which individuals are not really asking for it. Under the original proposition of television, it was the exchange of one’s time to view the advertising in return for the free content. Obviously that business model in today’s environment is highly flawed because we all pay for cable. And entertainment is something we select to view. So what branded entertainment really does effectively is it merges the brand message and the placement of product and other forms of marketing with a very good storyline that appeals to the audience that the brand is looking to reach. In the case of IBM and the “Business of Innovation,” it’s more about the quality of the audience relative to the decision-maker who views CNBC than it is a mass audience from an IBM branding standpoint. And the guests and topics which are being discussed is really what is attracting the audience to further their knowledge on what Ralph Lauren or Tom Freston, who is formerly from Viacom, feels about innovation in their respective businesses and what’s happening out in the marketplace. I think that that perspective where brands can go to a higher level to spark a conversation or a dialogue about a social issue and then subsequently host that issue in an entertainment platform is what differentiates it from an ad where it might be talking about that same issue but not necessarily engaging people in a discussion.

Does branded entertainment produce results for the bottom line?
I think done right, branded entertainment is more effective than advertising. I don’t believe that branded entertainment can be done without the support of advertising or promotions or PR or retail activation, so it is very much about a holistic approach to these programs. If you produce it, they will not come, and that is the differentiator. It’s like any other form of entertainment, be it television that gets promoted on their respective network or a film that cost $50 million where they need to spend another $75 million to market it. You can’t just produce it and expect people to show up to view it.

What about cynics who say they’re just commercials disguised as shows? Is there a way to avoid making people feel like they’re being duped?
The fact that there is a television show about the best Super Bowl ads before the Super Bowl—are you telling me that the television show about advertising is not a form of entertainment? I don’t believe that an ad cannot be entertaining, and I don’t believe that entertainment cannot be an ad. It all comes down to respecting the consumer and being upfront and honest with them. I think David Ogilvy once said that the consumer is not a moron, she is your wife. The consumer is your friend, your partner, or your colleague. I really believe the biggest mistake that people make trying to produce this stuff is trying to be too smart or too slick about it.

Axe “Gamekillers” is a perfect example of really smart branded entertainment that worked backwards from the content and the premise of what “Gamekillers” was into an advertising campaign. Another discussion that comes up all the time is which comes first, the ad or the entertainment? I don’t necessarily know that one should come before the other, but I do know that they can and should work together.

Is this a limitless possibility where any brand can be incorporated into branded entertainment?
Well, look, we did it for mayonnaise, so if we can do it for mayonnaise…but is it limitless? I think in the spectrum of entertainment from user-generated content to professionally produced broadband content to TV specials and series to videogames and feature films—along that long list of formats, there is a place for any and all product categories. If it fits the brand and budgets and there are metrics that can be placed against measuring its success, then I think that the tool should be used. But there are a lot of brands out there that are seeing it as the next hot thing and saying, we need one of those. I don’t believe you should just step up to the mic and expect yourself to sing.

What does the current state of the economy mean for branded entertainment? Are clients going to shy away from soft-selling or will they do more of it because it’s targeted?
There’s a lot of talk about that, it’s a very difficult question and if I had a crystal ball, I’d be over at the Wall Street Journal instead.

I think that brands are looking for more value for their money. They want a consumer who is interested in their product or service. The traditional media model has a fair amount of fat based on what we call mass media. People are interested more in narrowcasting rather than broadcasting, and in some cases even singlecasting. I think entertainment allows for a brand to get more value for their money from a traditional funnel standpoint, because entertainment that is used across platforms can bring people into the funnel not only at the top but further down the funnel with broadband and viral pieces like we did with Dove “Evolution.” So I think the value proposition is what brands are going to look at more where they’re saying, can I get more for my money by being integrated into or creating my own entertainment? But like I said, if you build it, they will not come, it still requires media partnerships.

The exciting part is that everyone is playing out of position. AT&T is not just a phone company, right? Verizon is not just a mobile company. They are out there commissioning content, and the opportunities for content creators and brands becomes greater because the economics of that content, rather than being a marketing expense, becomes an entertainment asset that can be amortized over a longer period than a 30- or 60-second commercial.

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