Branded entertainment takes centre stage

The launch of another new agency focusing on non-spot advertising has thrown the spotlight back onto branded entertainment and the issue of brands getting involved in the creation of content.

Village Green, headed by former Starcom executives Andy Roberts and Adam Bishop, along with former EMAP Advertising cross-media director Jane Kesley, says it is the first “one-stop shop” offering independent advice to clients across channels, including editorial, programming, events, sponsorships, promotions, licensing and ad-funded solutions.

Traditional agencies are also increasing their focus on branded entertainment, with TBWA’s specialist division Stream last week appointing MTV’s Macky Drese as managing partner ahead of “imminent” expansion plans (MW last week). While Saatchi & Saatchi’s branded content unit Gum is being scaled back, its founding partners Andreas Neumann and Amos are leaving to set up their own company.

Growth spurt
Many UK media agencies also offer specialist sponsorship and non-spot arms, such as Starcom’s Starcom , which Roberts and Bishop helped found. It all demonstrates the growth of the market beyond traditional spot advertising and the increasing willingness of clients to experiment and get closer to content. Village Green estimates that the sector is worth £600m a year and is growing 15-20% a year. Its figures put non-standard spot activity at 10% of all advertising spend with the potential to be as high as 20%.

TBWA/Stream managing director Gemma Newland says: “The industry has grown massively in the past few years.” She says “content strategies” will become increasingly important as part of the marketing mix.

The Village Green founders believe their proposition is different because the agency will act as a consultancy dealing in “brand solutions” by engaging consumers through content.

They believe they will work well with existing units such as Gum, while adding more to the “commoditised” model, to which traditional media agencies work. He adds: “They have a tendency to drive value down rather than up.” 

He says the branded entertainment divisions within big agencies are about creating content, so are closer to production than the idea. “We would work in a very complementary fashion to those companies,” adds Roberts. “We’re about leveraging and making those ideas come to life.” 

Going online
For Alex Gulland, a creative partner working on branded content across the Ogilvy Group, the future of branded content is online. By 2010, the global worth will be up to $10bn (£5bn), she estimates, changing things again. “It’s not just about owning programmes, but the channels too,” adds Gulland.

Such agencies have high hopes and high expectations, but media owner ITV’s customer relations director Nicky Buss strikes a note of caution. Buss is tasked with liaising with clients to build ITV’s non-spot commercial activity.

She says there is an argument for such specialist agencies, but warns/ “The trouble is, there can be too many people at the table and that does start to get ridiculously complicated.” 

She prefers to deal with clients directly, although she says that may evolve as the industry grows and clients become more savvy and willing to experiment. “Brands wanting to get closer to content is about getting closer to consumers,” adds Buss. “Get it right and it is disproportionately effective.” 

As Bishop says, in today’s “fragmented” media world never has it been easier to advertise – or to “become more invisible”. Leaving the relative security of a media network, he will be hoping the same will not be said of Village Green.

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