The New (No) Ad Agency – by Jeff Hirsch
None other than Michael Eisner, former Chairman of the Walt Disney Company, “is launching an independent studio that will produce and distribute original content for the Web and digital platforms,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.
It seems that not a week goes by without a corporation, studio, web portal, independent producer or other entertainment mogul announcing that they too are getting into the “content” business. Just like the rest, Eisner’s new enterprise, “dubbed Vuguru… will focus on story-driven projects designed to be consumed on multiple platforms.”
Such “story-driven projects” and other “content” for the web have been around since broadband penetration surpassed dial-up for web access years ago. But as a Variety article late last year noted, “No one has yet to make a fortune at this game.”
Why is that? Will Eisner fare any better? The signs are not positive. Consider that the media giant Warner Bros. launched their content company, “Studio 2.0,” to great fanfare last September and all they have to show for it is a deal for a single show with the troubled “BudTV” website.
This isn’t rocket science. We simply have more “content” than time. In a March 18, 2007 New York Times column, the film critic A.O. Scott observes, “The technology has yet to be developed that can increase the number of hours in the day, which means that, somehow, we will still need to choose among the thousands of movies at our instantaneous disposal.”
It is possible, even probable, that some kind of web gatekeeping system will emerge, with online tastemakers steering us to content. Of course, that is precisely the same purpose that was served by the old Hollywood studio system and the Big Three broadcast television networks.
In the meantime, barriers for writers, filmmakers, graphic artists and musicians to showcase their work have never been lower. Moreover, the thrill of discovering something new, authentic and organic seems to be far more satisfying to teens and young adults than being force-fed formulaic content from the media establishment.
So is there “a fortune” to be made in the content business or not? Will established corporate entities figure out how to cash in or will user generated YouTube-type content rule the day?
It all depends on your point of reference. If “content” is approached from a marketing perspective, as advertiser sponsored entertainment or information, and not purely as “art” or “entertainment,” there is a lot of money to be made.
While we have known for a quite a while now that ad agencies and broadcast networks are dinosaurs, there seems to be a disproportionate amount of energy still devoted to the 30-second TV spot. I wonder why.
The ad agency system will be replaced, sooner rather than later, with a new kind of media company, one that redefines relationships between the creative community, marketers, consumers, and the audience for popular entertainment.
This company won’t be staffed by copywriters and art directors, but by talent from the arts and entertainment communities, rising stars and proven mainstream talents including screenwriters, directors, producers, musicians, actors, photographers, graphic artists and others. Creativity will also flow from consumers, who will demand to participate in the process of marketing to themselves and be recognized for their efforts.
This new company may still produce ads, but only as a part of its larger mission, which is to develop proprietary “content” for the purpose of brand building.
As “content” replaces the 30-second spot, we are likely to witness something marketers could only dream about until now. Unlike traditional ads, which are “pushed” to viewers, high quality “content” will “pull” target consumers to the companies and their brands.
“Content” can be anything, but it better be good. “Great creative” is not an end in itself, just the ante to get into the game. A wide range of content should be available some overtly commercial, some simply there as entertainment, but all must be created strictly within the brand positioning and personality.
You don’t always need to be literal. For example, a reality show about the social lives of a group of first year law students (think “Legally Blond” meets “The Paper Chase”) is far more interesting than a contrived group of fictional friends whose lives revolve around a brand of beer, soft drink or snack food. Your consumers will make the positive connections to your brand on their own and appreciate you all the more for it.
A cause-related component is also crucial. A great example is “The Southern Comfort Music Fund…created to help the New Orleans music scene rise again” after Hurricane Katrina. This not only demonstrates how to choose a noteworthy cause with direct roots in the brand’s DNA, it also provides the key to content development.
Such a single-minded focus is the mother lode of brand-building creative opportunity. Think of how the Music Fund could pull together of all the brand’s marketing efforts in a very human and compelling way. There could be live webcasts of concerts, consumer-based talent discovery contests, music videos, music downloads, CD’s for sale (maybe at Starbucks or a casual dining establishment like TGI Fridays, with a percentage of sales going to the cause) and other video based stories of how musicians and other artists have struggled to reestablish their own careers and the arts scene.
Yes, content is still king and fortunes will be made. That is, when content developers figure out that they’re in the marketing business, more so than the entertainment business.