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Marketers spread influence at Mipcom

Advertisers pitch innovative approaches

There was a time when advertising executives at major content markets like Mipcom were few and far between.

These days, it is hard to keep from tripping over them as they cozy up with content makers, innovative distributors and even traditional TV players vying to lure consumers.

Mipcom and other fairs are now replete with speakers on advertising, marketing and branded content, waxing poetic about giving consumers “meaningful experiences,” whether virtual or real, integrated, cross-platform or even a little green.

In Cannes this week, expect CEOs from Havas Media, BBDO, Carat Entertainment and more than a few of their clients to give Mipcom attendees the lowdown on how market fractionalization, digital video recorders (DVRs), social networking and the defection of younger target groups to myriad other platforms have turned their world topsy-turvy — and how much they love it.

Most can’t create content departments for branded entertainment within their own agencies fast enough. Advertisers and brands themselves “want to be seen as partners or even buyers of content, opening up another revenue model for the industry,” says Paul Johnson, director of the TV division of Reed Midem (a sister company of Variety).

“We expect at least one major announcement on this subject to be released during Mipcom,” Johnson says.

Despite a decade of apocalyptic warnings about its imminent demise, the 30-second spot appears to be, as one top British ad exec put it, “in rude health.” While numbers predicting more than half of the U.S. may be on DVRs in the next four years are scary, across the globe (even in tech-happy Asia), the use of DVRs is still relatively low.

Even so, industryites are looking forward. Not only has the European Union finally agreed to liberalization of product placement, but by the time it becomes law in 2009, it will be just one of many tools aimed at capturing elusive consumers as they move across a dozen platforms or more without even noticing.

Worldwide, product placement in television grew by 37% in 2006, with the growth rate for 2007 expected to be close behind.

Among the savviest to combine product placement with integrated marketing and sponsorship are telenovela makers. Telemundo’s “A Chance for Love” (Pecados Ajenas), which began broadcasting this month in the U.S., boasts product placement galore, including integrated cross-marketing via Toyota’s new sponsorship of a 30-second replay of the best scene, as well as traditional sponsorship, with Kraft Foods’ DiGiorno Pizza funding a commercial-free episode.

Will all that commercial traffic impede the quality of the storyline? Not likely, says Telemundo Intl. president Marcos Santana.

“We work closely with writers and producers to make sure that the product seamlessly blends into the storyline and images we want to portray,” Santana says.

Mark Boyd, creative director and European director of content for Bartle Bogle Hegarty, adds that such concerns are passe.

“Consumers are not children,” Boyd says. “They want to see a reflection of the real world, and the real world has real brands in it. The larger question is not how programming will be affected by product placement but how our favorite programs will be funded if these funding avenues aren’t available.”

Still more questions remain about what else consumers want — especially younger consumers. Conventional TV may not be a big part of the plan.

“Youth in China are on the Internet and don’t watch much TV,” notes Norman Tan, executive creative director of Bates Shanghai, which just launched a major viral Dance With Your Heart campaign for Remy Martin aimed at capturing the elusive youth market.

Further, Roseong Park, a senior fellow with the Korean Broadcasting Advertising Corp., predicts IPTV could dominate the ad market in Korea, noting media consumption will be focused on the Internet in the future.

“We are putting all of our budget right now online,” BBH’s Boyd adds. We don’t see TV in the same way as the TV industry. We look at rich content, ideas that may be expressed as a game or a virtual video or a mobile film or regular film or TV show.”

MTV is among the more cutting-edge players in the game of creating original programming for advertisers. Its latest move in this direction is “The Gamekillers,” launched in September, a product of @radical.media and BBH in New York in partnership with Unilever’s Axe.

What’s the draw?

“A brand can be connected to entertainment and still not be in your face the way a 30-second spot is,” Axe brand development director David Rubin notes.

Indeed, there seems to be no stopping the headlong rush of big brands like Nike, Disney, Microsoft and others to build virtual worlds in Second Life, Gaia, Habbo, Facebook and other virtual worlds expected to come online. Virtual world media placement outfit Millions of Us has launched campaigns across Gaia and Second Life for companies like Warner Bros. and Microsoft.

Traditional methods of reaching consumers like product placement are “a way of smuggling branded product messages into a content environment where viewers have limited control,” Millions of Us CEO Reuben Steiger says.

“In these virtual world communities,” he adds, “we put brands in the contexts of experiences that people actively seek out rather than in places they can’t avoid.”

But how much experience can an empowered consumer handle? Even with global brands like Viacom busy constructing virtual worlds, could it all be just a flash in the pan? The jury is out, although Steiger points out the stats are nothing to sniff at.

“The virtual world market is currently at 100 million users, growing rapidly and focused on youth,” he says. “Consumers love them.”

Sulake, the company that created Habbo, has figured out a way to poll its avatars, and it could be any day now that someone figures out how to Skype the virtual world (i.e., enable calls from the virtual world to the real world).

Still, for those global advertisers who don’t want to take the virtual world plunge just yet, don’t panic. Traditional TV and radio aren’t dead yet.

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