Complaints were made loud and clear at the recent Advertising Age Madison + Vine conference by executives representing producers, networks, media agencies, and advertisers concerning the state of the branded entertainment business. These included the long production time spent on branded entertainment projects, the inequitable share of money among partners, and the little-to-no guarantee for a return on investment.
Marianne Gambelli, executive vice president of sales and marketing for NBC, told advertisers who did branded entertainment deals that they should work with the networks - in other words, buy more traditional network television time.
General Motors marketing executive Steve Tihanyi moaned he doesn't have an endless supply of money to help fund all branded efforts. Reveille Entertainment CEO Ben Silverman objected to the plethora of meetings that must be done with all parties and their respective legal counsels.
Who was not complaining? One guy not in the room: Mark Burnett, executive producer of "Survivor" and "The Apprentice" - the only two consistent branded entertainment moneymaking machines.
A key comment came from Irvin Gotlieb, chief executive officer of Group M, a WPP Group media buying and planning agency group. "We have to get more grown up about how we approach this," he said. "We need to come together earlier so no one gets screwed in the process."
One major concern is this, he said: Advertisers have meetings with executives who don't have the rights to certain entertainment properties and executives who didn't know they didn't have the rights to those properties.
This is crazy, and dangerous. As bad as any threat is because of network ratings erosion, or the perceived threat of digital video recorders, 99 percent of a client's current media buying business still goes to traditional media placement. Take the eye of that ball and all the branded entertainment deals on "The Apprentice" - all the sponsored segments on "American Idol" -- will leave products on shelves and marketing executives without year end bonuses, or jobs.
Madison + Vine keynote speaker at the conference, Motorola Chief Marketing Officer Geoffrey Frost, said it best, according to The Hollywood Reporter in his description of consumer product deals for theatrical films. For a film, he said, integration costs as much as a national product launch with no guarantees offered to the brands involved.
"That is not a sustainable model," he said. "It's a model for desperately perpetuating a failed status quo."