In a unique marriage between the advertising and showbiz creative communities, ad powerhouse J. Walter Thompson and production/management twins Basic Entertainment and Brillstein-Grey Management have created Gotham-based new-media think tank ©JWT.
As part of a larger corporate strategy for both industries that includes a growing Internet division, JWT-owned marketing subsid ©JWT aims to rethink the traditional agency model by incorporating advertising directly into the talent representation and production businesses.
Basic and Brillstein-Grey are also expected shortly to announce a joint Internet strategy, in which ©JWT will play a major role as Digital©JWT.
JWT USA already has 16 dot-com clients and creates Web advertising for many of its global clients, such as Ford and Unilever.
The think tank will go much further than merely slotting celebrity clients in commercials, creating marketing sponsorships and doing product placement for ad clients in TV shows after the fact.
Rather, the idea behind such full integration means advertising will no longer be an ancillary to the entertainment product itself, but a fully vested part of it from inception to execution.
The idea is so far-reaching that even company principals were loath to offer specific numbers, since they all have to test drive the design first.
“It’s hard to quantify it in a very specific way,” said Basic Entertainment chairman Brad Grey. “It is clearly a dialogue and an effort to bring the advertiser not closer to the creative product so much as to the consumer. We’re trying to create a new model that changes the dynamic a bit in that there’s so much competition for ad dollars that if (the advertisers) can be a part of it on an economic basis and a more specific targeting basis, then that’s good for everyone.”
Lately, crossovers among the production, communication and representation businesses in Hollywood have blossomed, and the trend doesn’t seem to be abating. CAA has a close alliance with Internet incubator Idealab!, while AMG has already blended management and production.
What appears new about the ©JWT idea is the notion that ad agencies may now pole-vault to the head of the class and be in the rooms where production decisions are made, thereby influencing content directly.
But Grey was quick to dismiss the notion that the new company’s approach is tit-for-tat, wherein clients on either side are automatically committed to crossing over; instead, he insisted, it’s a process of choice and opportunity for everyone, not a fait accompli.
Within the arrangement, however, it would not be unthinkable to see Basic Entertainment taking an interest in tweaking a JWT ad campaign creatively, just as B/G clients may show up in some of them, if they so choose.
“To suggest that (the advertisers) will be part of the creative process is to misstate it,” Grey elaborated. “I don’t mean to suggest they won’t be involved in discussions very early about what demographics and target audiences they’re looking at, but the intent is not to change what we believe is the best creative strategy about writing and casting as we develop television and motion pictures.”
Grey went on to explain that for everyone involved, “it’s beneficial to be as close to the initial financial dollar as possible. That’s really what the effort is here. We’re working on a few very different projects to start; we’ll learn from that and see where that takes us. There’s a lot of room for experimentation and lots of room for creating what this model can become.”
Closer to consumers
JWT prexy Bob Jeffrey echoed, “Through our relationship with Brad Grey and Basic Entertainment, JWT will put advertisers in close proximity to the prime movers of popular culture to create breakthrough ideas that surround their brands with compelling entertainment experiences, from in-store to the Internet, in order to connect with consumers.”
B/G clients include Nicolas Cage, Bob Costas, Adam Sandler, Dennis Miller, Sylvester Stallone, Brad Pitt, Gary Sinise and Bill Maher.
Basic Entertainment is developing “City by the Sea” and a remake of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” at Warner Bros. Brad Grey’s TV interests include “The Sopranos” with HBO and a joint venture with Sony to develop programming for upcoming seasons through Columbia TriStar TV.
An agency in the WPP Group, JWT generates billings of more than $9 billion, making it the second-largest ad agency in the U.S. and No. 4 in the world.
Its clients include Warner-Lambert, Merrill Lynch, Miller Beer, De Beers and Pepsi.
In the 1930s, JWT developed radio programs with its clients such as the “Kraft Music Hall” and, later, the “Kraft Television Theater.”