And now a few words from our sponsor…

August 17, 2009

mad men three guys

I’ve been re-watching series two of Mad Men in eager anticipation for the new series. While most of the advertising action centres around the creative process, Mad Men also offers an insight into the evolution of media as a discipline, through media exec Harry Crane. In the 1950s, (and some would argue little has changed!), media has yet to gain a seat at the ideas table, illustrated perfectly by Client Service director Duck Phillips, when he calls an emergency meeting with the American Airlines pitch team and then disdainfully asks Harry “why are you here?”

When Harry accidentally finds out he earns considerably less than his peer, copywriter Ken Cosgrove, he attempts to step up media’s contribution, by pitching a controversial prime time drama to cosmetics client Belle Jolie. The programme mentions “abortion” fifteen times in the opening sequence. Harry makes the argument that the controversy will bring viewers and young women will talk about it, good or bad. In the end, the approach is too risque for the client but everyone is impressed with Harry’s progressive thinking on the role of sponsorship.

Which brings us to the future of sponsorship and a project which probably offers a glimpse of what this might be. Purefold is one of the most intriguing projects I’ve come across this year.  Essentially it is a series of brand-sponsored webisodes brought to market by Ag8 and director Ridley Scott. The concept is inspired by Blade Runner and the storylines are based around a central theme of what it means to be human, set in the near future.

There are so many interesting facets to this idea – the fact that Hollywood scriptwriters will be crowdsourcing inspiration through lifestreaming website FriendFeed, or that it will be licenced under Creative Commons so that fans can use, reuse and remix the content, making piracy part of the business model.

But what’s particularly intriguing is how the brands will be integrated into the narrative in a way that goes beyond crude product placement. Brands sponsoring each episode will put forward a theme, value or future product, to become an intrinsic part of the storyline. This means the brand has to own something which is interesting and nuanced enough to generate a conversation. Tactical or functional messages will have no place here. The content development will also be iterative, allowing brands to explore lots of threads or stories, keeping the ones which connect with people and discarding the ones which don’t. Another sign that the future of marketing is about being culturally complex and the days of the singular “big idea” are numbered.

This is one to watch.


purefold blog picture jpeg


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