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Conference Takes The Pulse Of Branded Entertainment

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Branded entertainment is the hottest topic in marketing communications but also one of the least understood. What is it? How much is too much? How is it measured? How will it will evolve? Attendees got a crash course last Friday at The Next Big Idea conference in New York titled The Future of Branded Entertainment.

Several speakers at the event, which drew some 400 people, talked about where to draw the line. NBA commissioner David Stern vowed to keep ads off NBA uniforms. "We are the only sport with only one logo," he said. "That's our brand." Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN ABC Sports customer marketing and sales, worried of overkill even as ESPN launches mini-movies with Sears and others. "I wonder when we'll reach the point when there's too much branded entertainment and we're turning everyone off," he said.

Linda Goldstein, partner/chair-advertising media marketing for law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips in New York, said a bigger problem will be regulation, not taste. "If it gets to the point where it's seen as a subliminal endorsement, [the FTC is] going to treat it as advertising," she said.

As for the question of ROI, Nielsen Media Research (which, like Adweek, is owned by VNU) offered two solutions: a service tracking placements in videogames and one for general placements. Hamet Watt, CEO of nextmedium, a Nielsen affiliate, said Nielsen has worked out quantitative figures for placements but hopes to get an industry consensus on qualitative measurements.

Laura Caraccioli-Davis, svp, director at Starcom Entertainment in Chicago, took issue with the notion of a standard. "Once you monetize it, you will commoditize it," she said.

There were offers to hold marketers' hands. "There are so many touchpoints. We really are champions of the brand, making sure properties are hitting their demos," said Mark Owens, evp and chief strategy officer for Davie-Brown Entertainment. Owens discussed "killer content" in film, TV and gaming on a panel with Elie Dekel of Creative Artists Agency, Lewis Henderson of William Morris and Keith Ferrazzi of YaYa.

Rich Stoddart, marketing communications manager for Ford, may have summed it up best in urging people to jump in: "It's like sex," he said. "The people who talk the most about it are usually the ones that aren't doing it much," he said.

The theme of a changing world was captured in an entertaining discussion between Roc-A-Fella Enterprises CEO Damon Dash and Deutsch CEO Donny Deutsch. They touched on how much the world is different for kids today. "Me, Puff and Russell have made it cool to be smart," he said. "It's cool to be a CEO."

Dash revealed plans to launch a TV network in the U.K. and talked about nixing proposed tie-ins from General Motors execs, such as a free oil change with purchase of a CD.

The event was hosted by Adweek and several other VNU publications.