Tear Down That Wall

Who can deny that the “Berlin Wall” that once divided Madison Avenue and Hollywood appears to be crashing down. Or that these once-rival superpowers seem to be engaged in a mutual “glasnost,” exploring new ideas to hold onto power in the face of a new common enemy —lack of attention.

Like all of us in the ad world, Hollywood—itself a major advertiser—has realized that conventional advertising is not as efficient as it once was. It, too, is competing with the Web, videogames, TiVo, wireless phones and all the other emergent technologies. As a result, what seems to be happening is a wartime alliance of sorts.

Just like glasnost, what we have today is a period of openness to change and experimentation. Hollywood and Madison Avenue are engaged in a more open discussion of what each can bring to the party. While the end result remains unclear, the traditional world is looking to gain attention through the borrowed interest of entertainment properties, while the entertainment world seeks the traditional world’s marketing muscle.

What can we expect of this alliance? Will it just be more tie-ins like SBC and The Incredibles (which actually was pretty good) and more product placement like the Ford Focus in The Cat in the Hat (which was not so good)?

I think not. Selling out characters as pitchpeople prior to a movie’s release can make the audience feel manipulated. What we love about movies is the possibility for escape—and that includes escape from our commerce-laden world. When our disbelief is being suspended, the last thing we want to see is Spider-Man testing his web on a can of Dr Pepper. Besides, where can this approach lead? Having Jim Cavaziel, who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, pitching a pain reliever?

I think the future is more along the lines of the Nike model. When you watch a professional sport, you see plenty of those swooshes, but it’s a world in which they belong. To me, that seems to be the trick—to create a relationship that is absolutely natural.

Why does Apple offer movie trailers on its Quicktime site? Not because it aspires to be in the movie business but to promote Quicktime as the online video standard. People are motivated to use the program because they want to see the trailer. This doesn’t affect the movie property. But Apple gets in the center of the entertainment world by participating in it, not just sponsoring it.

Another example is a program we are currently developing that allows people to access showtimes, purchase movie tickets and even view trailers right from their cell phones. The cellular company not only generates increased interest by associating itself with the movies, it also gains an opportunity to transform behaviors and provide new value-added services. And the movie industry gains a new medium to increase exposure and ticket sales. It’s a win-win for both.

The problem most traditional advertisers have is how to evaluate these programs. Their media departments can’t put a CPM against it, the creative department can’t win awards with it, and, I hate to say it, the finance departments don’t know how to charge for it.

But as our alliance grows, I see ideas as the new currency. And the movie studios are early adopters of new ideas. They don’t see creative as a department. Everyone has to be creative. It seems to me that’s an example we all need to follow.

The meetings I have been in to explore this new alliance have been lively and productive. Which leads me to ask the question: Who built this wall in the first place?