Madison Road: Brand Roles, Not Product Placements

LOS ANGELES Veteran TV executive Tom Mazza and former marketing executive Jak Severson have teamed to form Madison Road Entertainment, an independent studio specializing in branded programming.

MRE in Los Angeles will develop, create and produce reality, comedy and drama television series with embedded advertiser content for broadcast, cable and syndication outlets. The studio has seven full-time employees and six consultants.

Mazza, 45, who was formerly president of Columbia TriStar Network Television, is serving as president. Severson, 33, is CEO. He previously held the same title at NearWare Networks, an advertising technology company that specialized in improving TV ad placement opportunities for the television industry. MRE partners also include John Bronson, a former Pepsi executive, and Rob Long, who served as co-executive producer of Cheers.

MRE is working with more than a dozen undisclosed clients in product categories including automotive, packaged goods and over-the-counter drugs, and expects to have some shows placed this year, according to Severson. In addition to developing programs with clients, MRE will work with production companies or networks to integrate products into shows that may be over budget, he said.

The company will not sell product placements, said Severson. “We want to sell a role a brand can play in the part of a show,” he said. “The one golden rule is that viewers cannot notice the integration but must be able to remember it.” He cited examples such as the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry knocks one of Kramer’s Junior Mints into the surgical incision of a man, and a Friends show in which Rachel redecorates her apartment with Pottery Barn merchandise.