Column: Branded -- Bring On the Knight

Meet the Weinstein brothers: Harvey, Bob -- and Martin. OK, Sir Martin Sorrell isn't a blood relation. He's adopted. Or rather, he's the adopter, having recently welcomed cinema impresarios Harvey and Bob Weinstein into his WPP family, plunking down $25 million for limited custody rights. Nevertheless, these boys are truly brothers, in more ways than one.

After their contentious divorce from Disney, Harvey and Bob -- widely credited with putting indie film on the mass culture map with Miramax Films -- announced the creation of the Weinstein Co. through a $1 billion patchwork of equity and debt financing orchestrated by their pals at Goldman Sachs. The stable of well-heeled investors includes the WPP Group.

Sir Martin has made his bones in this business as a successful high-stakes gambler. The exquisite cunning required to leverage hostile WPP takeovers of Mad Ave. mainstays Ogilvy & Mather and JWT echoes the aggressive methods the Weinstein brothers have employed over the years as they bulldozed their way from small-time Buffalo music promoters to big-time Hollywood dealmakers. While the supersized personalities of the brothers Weinstein are in stark contrast to the diminutive profile of Sir Martin, the differences are cosmetic. When it comes to building brands and businesses, you might say they're a troika of stone-cold schemers.

Certainly Sir Martin is aware of how the Weinsteins built the Miramax empire. Unlike the Hollywood factories that churn out generic franchise pics, the Weinsteins have made a mint taking art house films from "sex, lies and videotape" to "The Crying Game" and transforming them, through sheer will, chutzpah, and major marketing dollars, into cultural events if not box-office blockbusters.

Harvey and Bob, in effect, invented a new model that upped the ante on paid movie advertising and Academy Award nomination campaigns. Exploiting the film trades, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, as advertising bully pulpits, the brothers out-hustled and out-connived their competitors. Their biggest coup, according to Peter Biskind's 2004 exposé, "Down and Dirty Pictures," was nabbing a Best Picture Oscar for "Shakespeare in Love," besting that year's heavy favorite, "Saving Private Ryan" by using a full-court pr assault that would have made Karl Rove proud.

The brothers Weinstein were also among of the first in Hollywood to buy into branded entertainment. While much of Hollywood and Madison Avenue have continued to rely on the traditional one-dimensional, multisponsor pooling of ad dollars, the Weinsteins took a bolder approach. They grabbed headlines with an exclusive, multiyear deal with Coors to create an integrated branding presence for the beer maker across multiple Miramax properties, including in films and at red-carpet events like premieres, parties, and film festivals.

While the deal reportedly fizzled due to management changes at the client, it shouldn't be looked upon as a failure but as a first step in crafting a new model. Sure, the business is ultimately measured by results, but in a new arena where most advertisers are still wallflowers, both parties deserve credit for trying the dance floor. In the same spirit, the Weinsteins entered into a first-look content deal a few years ago with the New York office of Mother, the ultra-cool UK/NY creative shop. The deal was spearheaded by Lori Sale, the savvy corporate partnership maven at Miramax, who now moves on to the Weinstein Co.

Sir Martin is obviously taking a creative gamble, turning corporate America's fascination with the brothers Weinstein into an equity investment -- one that could create robust "in-house" marketing opportunities for WPP blue-chip clients, many of which, including Ford and American Express, already have been at the vanguard of the branded entertainment movement.

Let's just hope there's no sibling rivalry or ego clashes in this new big brotherhood of the Weinstein Co., as there were in the Disney arrangement. This new clan instead might spawn tantalizing scenarios for the entire industry. Imagine this coming to a theatre (or iPod) near you: "The Weinstein Co. in association with American Express Pictures and Group M Entertainment presents a Martin Scorsese film, starring Robert DeNiro..."

That could make for some boffo branded entertainment.

Hank Kim and Richard Linnett are directors at MPG Entertainment. ( and

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