Commentary

Plugging Away: Attack Of The Clone Pitches

Here's a pitch an agency like ours gets all the time from middlemen; we get them so often they not only sound the same, they are the same: "I am excited to announce that White Flower Entertainment will be working with Hyde Park Entertainment on their new feature film project, "Other End Of The Line." Here's a brand friendly project that is full of promotional, product placement and brand integration opportunities. One of the main settings takes place in an ad agency surrounded with slicks and light boxes, perfect for branding. (Think of the film, What Women Want.)

"As you are familiarizing yourself with this project please keep [your client] in mind, as I am specifically interested in discussing opportunities for this client with you amongst any other clients that you might find relevant.

"Logline: A beautiful young Indian woman and an American businessman cross cultural barriers in this uplifting romantic comedy. Priya Sethi works at a call center where she pretends to be American. She helps Granger Woodruff, who lives in the United States, with fraudulent charges on his credit card. What Granger doesn't know is that Priya actually lives in India. Priya and Granger have an instant connection over the phone. Throwing caution to the wind and leaving her loving family behind, Priya agrees to meet Granger in San Francisco. Priya and Granger's relationship blossoms, but their love is not without obstacles as family and cultures collide.

"Attached, please find a project overview and a PDF of our shooting script for your review. So you understand our timing, principal photography starts in Bombay, India on September 23rd. Should you require a hard copy of the script please let me know and I will be more than happy to send one out to you."

Why does this project sound so familiar? It was pitched to me over a year ago by another middleman outfit called Brand New that claimed to have an exclusive deal with the producers to provide brand integration. Right after Brand New pitched me (I was at another agency), another shop called claiming to have the exclusive branded entertainment packaging rights to the same film.

Not long ago, Mark Burnett, Reveille and Madison Road Entertainment made product placement sexy, and a pretty big business. They put together integration package plans that allowed marketers to plug their brands into primetime TV programming as effortlessly as plugging holes with joint compound. It was new, exciting and it was "inside TV," and it inspired our present cottage industry of branded entertainment peddlers, consultants and aggregate analysts like AIG and iTVX, which basically count the seconds of brand exposure and call it a success story.

These outfits now scramble for content crumbs, often fighting over either the same cookie or a cookie-cutter facsimile. Automobile racing series projects for TV are popular right now. I've probably seen a dozen presentations over the course of a year, from different middlemen, all about the same Japanese-influenced Drift competition league. Who do these peddlers find most receptive to their formulaic formats? Media agencies and their so-called entertainment divisions. Why? Because historically, clients don't turn to their media agencies for creative ideas. Put a media agency in a room with a creative agency and the client will always defer to the creative for its opinion on entertainment ideas. Always. The media agency that boldly ventures into the creative kitchen unfortunately finds itself left simply reheating pre-cooked meals for their clients.

Creative and strategy shops, on the other hand, have resisted the TV dinner approach and for good reason - their clients get indigestion when they catch a whiff. Many clients now prefer to develop unique, inspired entertainment integration ideas with their own creative shops. In other words, brands themselves are seizing the initiative and are looking for entertainment vendors as partners rather than the reverse. They refuse to play the role of silk purse for starved programming.

One thing's for sure - the "Pimp My Picture" crowd is in real trouble.

Richard Linnett is director of entertainment marketing at Fathom Communications. (richard.linnett@fathomcommunications.com)

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