Brandweek: Dateline Industry Insights Summit

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By Karen Benezra - May 07, 2007

Will the third installment of Xbox's Halo game be able to rise up and vanquish the trio of mighty entertainment franchises—Spider-Man, Shrek and Pirates of the Caribbean—to be crowned king of entertainment for 2007?
If Chris DiCesare has his way, legions of Clapton wannabes will still be trying to master Guitar Hero long after the last bucket of popcorn is served at the multiplex.

DiCesare, director of creative marketing at Xbox, predicted Halo 3 would surpass rival blockbusters-to-be in the "summer of threequels" during the April 26 Industry Insights Summit in Napa, Calif., which wrapped just as Spidey-Mania hit New York on its way to a record 4,252+ screens. The two-day conference, produced by The L.A. Office consultancy, saw some 120 attendees from entertainment and marketing circles gather (inside a wine cave for the most part) to swap ideas on creating brand excitement and sustaining relationships with customers. (For a PDF with photos and an insider's look at the conference, click HERE.)

In an event accented by giveaways and other bids for awareness among execs who frequently run sweepstakes and promos, brands representing Nike, Yahoo!, ESPN, Unilever, Kodak and W Hotels shared issues and challenges between talks on loyalty programs, the staying power of sustainability and Gen Yers hooked on the "pass-along power" of code-sharing secrets.

Yet candid competitive assessments were few as many agreed that a rush to certain tactics—social networks, anyone?—not only create clutter but have varying degrees of ROI. "I hope all ships rise to the top," said Drew Buckley, gm of Yahoo! Studios in Santa Monica, Calif., on the flood of brands seeking online entertainment ties, "but I want to make sure people approach expectations appropriately." Yahoo! counts 50 million unique monthly visitors, roughly 20 million of them ages 13-34, to its TV, movies, games and music sites.

The rise of social networks is part of a trend known as "beehiving," or gathering consumers in alternative, tight-knit communities to counter the fragmentation and alienation felt in real life, noted Iconoculture strategist Jonathan Steuer. But in reality, many "club" members only focus on freebies.

Frequent-flier efforts may have waned, but Layton Han, co-president at My Points.com, San Francisco, said it's important to think global and "understand where your customer fits in." Would they prefer $500 in cash, or tickets to see The Police reunite in concert? High-perceived value rewards are key to ensuring members stay motivated, he added, citing Air Miles from Canada and Harrah's Casino as standouts. Upromise, the college-savings program recently purchased by Sallie Mae, has also created a "great halo effect."

"More often, the content side goes out to the packaged [product] side," Goldberg said. "But you get a title like Shrek 3, and people know it's going to be big and they call us."

Gaming/Tech: Power Up
Though Microsoft played "catch-up" to Nintendo and Playstation, Xbox now counts 24 million gamers through its various platforms. "Feed the core and amplify the masses," was the team's mantra, said DiCesare. Xbox is a huge distributor of hi-def content and extended its franchise via a $3.99 game offering promoted at Burger King last year.

In the mobile space, brands need to be mindful of where and how they reach users, noted Steuer, given that many consider phones as real appendages. "Think of it as physical contact. Be careful you're being respectful of people's personal space," he said.

Getting past cell phone carriers' "walled gardens" that segregate users also is a big challenge. Steuer pointed to McDonald's as one brand thinking smartly: it reached out to night owls by distributing mobile coupons that were only redeemable between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m.

Sports: Life is a Fan Fest
Nike's market is split between traditional sports and snow and skate options favored by younger demos. But some sports garner so much global interest, there are no clear borders, said Sarah O'Hagen, gm for Nike's Western region. Manchester United, for example, counts 11 million fans in the U.K., but 16 million in Asia. "The soccer-crazy kid is different than the woman working out in a gym, but without youth we're nothing," O'Hagen said. That's left Nike championing causes from Lance Armstrong to its own "Run Like a Girl" women's marathon in San Francisco. The payoff? One million kids from Brazil to London were united by "Jogo Bonito," the world's largest soccer chain staged online during last year's World Cup.

Travel: Go East!
China and India are breakout markets for tourism, what with the Beijing Olympics and Shanghai World Expo on tap for 2008. India alone will add 900,000 rooms by 2012, creating opportunities for franchises to stretch globally. Travel marketers looking to attract wealthy boomers are focused on providing more one-of-a-kind "wow" experiences, said Carlos Becil, senior director of brand marketing at W Hotels, such as a chance to go "diving with chef Jean Georges [Vongerichten], then have him cook you dinner." Other growth ideas: finding ways to help visitors "stay young and look young" with anti-aging products.

Packaged Foods
Aiming to head off a crackdown on ads in the face of obesity concerns, Big Food is dialing up nutritional aspects via labels and messaging. "We're either reformulating products or adding things to them for functional benefit," said Stephanie Kovner-Bryant, senior integrated marketing manager at Unilever, which has removed tons of transfats, sodium and sugar from products. She hyped new "Eat Smart, Drink Smart" labels, 100-calorie pack snacks, Lipton Sides with whole grains, Wishbone salad spritzers, Skippy Natural Peanut Butter, Hellmann's Canola Oil mayo and Slim-Fast as examples. Joining that list are Unilever's portion of the Best Life food line hyped by Oprah's trainer, Bob Greene, which is getting a rare co-promotional push with General Mills at Kroger, along with Promise Active, billed as a "cholesterol-reducing" margarine.