Brandweek: Dateline Industry Insights Summit

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By Karen Benezra - May 17, 2006

In their pursuit of consumers, brand marketers have relied on a host of sports and entertainment offerings from free tickets and collect-and-win contests to graphics-heavy online Webisodes.

But as digital options proliferate, consumers will be taking more control of the process. Marketers must continue to adapt, whether enabling fans to use mobile phones to send and retrieve the latest episode of Lost or simply to customize their TV screens to get premium stats while watching a baseball game. "It's going to be a rugged transition," warned keynoter Peter Sealey of the Los Altos Group, Sausalito, Calif.

Those were just a few forward-leaning ideas discussed by a dozen brand marketers at the inaugural Industry Insights Summit, attended by 110 entertainment industry execs May 3-6 in Napa, Calif. After nearly 10 years of showcasing the Hollywood's-eye view at the annual fall RoadShow conference, entertainment marketing consultancy The LA Office decided to reverse the process and put top brands-Coca-Cola, Visa, General Mills, Target, AMD and Mercedes-Benz, among them-in the spotlight and tackle some hot-button issues. Product placement overload, promo partner opportunities and mishaps were among the lessons shared during sessions at the Sebastiani Winery.

Among the seasoned marketing crowd, ESPN's Sean Hanrahan had perhaps the most-envied gadget: an ESPN phone (playing up the net's black-and-red signature colors) that sends scoring updates from Hanrahan's hometown Mets after each game's third, sixth and ninth innings.

"Giving sports fans what they want, when they want it," is the new mantra at ESPN, he said during a Brandweek-hosted discussion of music, film, sports and content providers.

Just how determined are marketers to measure their entertainment investments? Look no further than Coke, which has hired McKinsey & Co. to benchmark the success of its American Idol partnership, a deal that is said to cost the soda giant $15 million annually, yet serves up a weekly audience of 30 million rabid fans.

"We're trying to figure it out along with everyone else," said Greg Downey, group director of entertainment at the Atlanta beverage giant. Already the Idol pact delivers such intangibles as "partner (read retailer and bottler) happiness" via tie-ins with 24 of its biggest customers plus added displays. Coke, which has a deep heritage in movies, would be interested in delving deeper into the back end of productions, Downey said. "We'd be glad to look at a financial model if it were more of a traditional one," with necessary investments made to insure a real payoff.

Of course, Coke and the rest play in a hyper competitive world, where health concerns, federal regulation and rising costs are thinning budgets. "Selling a property on glitz and glamour has been replaced by achieving ROI," said LA Office president Mitch Litvak. "Years ago, all you needed was a Happy Meal and a Coke promotion to open a movie. Now, it's what else do you have?"

Food: Health & Wellness Rules

Back in 1970, for instance, coffee was the nation's No. 1 beverage. Today it's carbonated soft drinks and by 2015, Coke predicts, it will be bottled water. Health and wellness drinks continue to be the industry's greatest growth opportunity, along with low-sugar and middle of the road drinks.

Health-conscious consumers are such a potent force in the food industry, they are attracting attention from behemoths like General Mills (which owns Cascadian Farms and Muir Glen brands of veggies, soups and salsa) to smaller players like Annie's Homegrown (pasta meals and snacks), both of whom were represented at the conference.

"Taste had been a barrier with natural and organic brands because people didn't think they tasted good, said Sarah Bird, vp-marketing at Annie's Homegrown. "But we've gotten past that."

The organic and natural food market is growing by double-digits and will likely reach $20 billion in the next three years. Bird said that more supermarkets from Safeway and Kroger to Whole Foods are expanding their natural product offerings to "avoid leakage" or losing customers to other shopping destinations, including Wal-Mart and Target, who are stocking up on organic products.

While Annie's has a scant marketing budget, mostly used for sampling and pr, it is looking for ideas that could enhance its 55-SKU line of macaroni and cheese dinners, crackers and snacks. "Kraft has done a terrific job with licensed properties like Rugrats and SpongeBob," said Bird. "We're trying to take a page from their book and do it in an Annie's authentic fashion."

With Viacom's Nickelodeon and Kraft under fire by anti-obesity activist groups who want to restrict advertising of junk food to children (Brandweek, Jan. 23), food companies in general are one heightened alert.

Jeff Peterson, director of corporate promotion marketing at General Mills in Minneapolis, underscored the need for food companies to respond to health concerns, along with convenience and taste/variety. "The relationship between food companies and healthy habits, obesity and diabetes is staggering," he said. "If you're a food company, it all comes down to what you're putting in [a customer's] body."

The 2005 food pyramid revamp by the federal government gave Big G the chance to revisit its portfolio to dial up low-fat dairy, fruits and veggies and whole grain cereals. Peterson recalled the intense discussions the prior year as food companies flocked to Washington: "I had the undersecretary of the FDA, Eric Boss, on my speed dial." With parents calling Boss everyday saying "the cereal they feed kids at breakfast is making them fat," he wondered: "Why shouldn't I sue you?"

The resulting whole grain initiative at Big G has lowered sugar in "27 million servings daily" at breakfast. Together the worldwide cereal, yogurt and organic lines account for 41% of General Mills worldwide sales, he said.

Financial Services: Keeping up with the Jones's

While food and beverage marketers zero in on share of stomach, financial services firms are zealously looking to dominate "share of wallet." That's good news for Visa, which notes that "87% of U.S. consumers have a Visa product in their wallet," said Tony Wells, vp-partnership marketing, Foster City, Calif.

Visa, for example, is looking to sports and entertainment projects to reach three key targets: affluents, Hispanics and young adults. Creating relevance is key because there are little perceived differences between Visa and its main rivals. Case in point: When Citibank changed million of its bank debit cards from Visa to MasterCard, it garnered fewer than 1% in complaints, remarked Wells.

Among Visa's latest experiments: a mobile payment infrastructure at Philips Arena in Atlanta, where attendees are encouraged to use specially equipped phone to buys snacks and merchandise via paperless transactions.

Visa's interests lie in empowering important customer segments. So when the NFL staged its player's draft last month, a handful of Visa Signature users were on hand to distribute hats to the draftees of their selected teams as they headed up to the podium. Additional programs it is eyeing include media enhancements for "Visa Moments" during NFL games, integration in videogames and ideas to support its top member banks (12 institutions account for 80% of Visa's volume.)

Technology: A Race to Own the Home

With consumers extremely tech-loyal to their devices, the race is on among technology players of all types to synchronize the home as "media zone," said Stephen DiFranco, corporate vp-consumer sales/marketing at Advanced Micro Devices, Sunnyvale, Calif. The ultimate goal: a single remote control device will drive everything from TVs, to PCs, to music systems and photo collections. "Motorola is set to make the Razr the ultimate consumer entertainment interface."

The shift, he predicted, will change the way consumers experience entertainment at home. So in the next five years fans of Nascar, for example, will be able watch a race and get enhanced stats on laps to go, how much gas is in a car's tank, how many G-forces are working against a driver's body, etc. "The consumer wants more data on the screen. So the question becomes, how do I allow consumer to self-select what they want?" DiFranco said, noting that race fans will one day subscribe to data on individual drivers, "get stats via their PC's linked to a 62-inch flat screen TV set and watch what they want . . . not what the network wants me to see."

DiFranco's team had a successful run last year with an AMD-driven PC from Hewlett-Packard that was themed around Lance Armstrong, with a portion of sales earmarked for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Next on DiFranco's agenda: a "pink ribbon" PC to promote breast cancer awareness, provided he can find the right retail partner.

Automotive: Luxury Gets More Crowded

With more mid-tier brands-VW, Audi among them-going up-market to vie for luxury customers and extra pressure from Japanese nameplates Lexus and Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz is finding itself in a sprint for market share. Last year, the company posted its 12th consecutive year of growth, though it still ranked fourth in overall luxury sales behind Lexus, BMW and Cadillac, said Carol Goll, gm-brand experience marketing at Mercedes in Montvale, N.J.

Moving to change that order, Mercedes has a lot riding on 11 new vehicle launches for 2006, including its GL450, its first full-size SUV, which carries a $55,675 pricetag. The model, which was on hand to ferry lucky conference goers to various Napa events, will get promotional this summer via a tie-in with X-Men 3.

When evaluating potential partnerships, Goll said the company looks for brand fit, who the target audience is and how the property might help Mercedes emphasize certain product benefits. More value, however, is placed on integrated planning. "Can the equity benefit our marketing beyond placement and can we activate behind it?" Most of M-B's marketing plans are put to bed in October, before the following model year starts, but "Great ideas can always find a marketing budget," she noted.

Mercedes has a prolific record reaching audiences through sports and entertainment-from 800 mentions on TV and film, tennis and golf tourneys, to sponsorship of The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton's Art & Education initiative-but Goll admitted there was more work to do. Mercedes spent 12 years "conquesting" and bringing new people into the brand, that it "left a bit of its [existing] relationships unattended," she said.

So new ads from Merkley + Partners, New York, dial up the emotional side of owning a Mercedes, to help reinforce the things people "love" about their cars. In fact, when Mercedes asked consumers last year to send in pictures of themselves with their cars, 24,000 people responded with snaps of both new and vintage machines. Print is themed: "You're not buying a car, you're buying a belief."

Confections: All Is Not Sweet in Candyland

New "fun" flavors, dark chocolate and trips down memory lane are leading to a feverish amount of activity in the candy sector (995 new products rolled alone in 2004). In one of the more entertaining Industry Insights presentations, Jackie Hague, a former promotions chief at Masterfoods USA and now a consultant at Expressive, in Hacketstown, N.J., talked up the dichotomy of the health and wellness market. "Granola bars were reinvented-when they added candy to it," she said.

Though a slower growth market, gaining less than 2% annually, the $28 billion snacks business at food, drug and mass outlets saw some standouts: Hague said that Cadbury Adams dollar sales gained 8.6% to $646 million due to acquisitions. And Hershey Foods powered a 5% gain in 2005 to $2.65 billion on a flurry of new product launches. "Hershey is definitely winning right now, flooding he market with trade dollars and new products."

(Still the company has heard complaints from retailers and is showing signs of shelf fatigue (see "Pitching Chocolate as the New Broccoli," Brandweek, May 15) and is expected to curb the extension blowout this year).

Deep in the shelf battle, Reese's recently overtook Snickers as the top brand in the US, pitting the chocolate titans against one another for better displays around key holidays Halloween ($2 billion), Easter ($1.8 billion), Christmas ($1.4 billion) and Valentine's Day ($970 million). The rest of the business accounting for $23 million in sales, is impulse sales, making strong retail partnerships a must-have. "M&M's at Target is 48 weeks on display, which I've been very happy about."