MPG Revamps Worldwide Branded-Content Offering

International Truck and Engine Corp. recently joined a fairly exclusive club by naming an agency of record just for the branded-content portion of its marketing budget, but MPG is banking the club won’t stay exclusive for long.

In May, the Warrenville, Ill.-based truck manufacturer named MPG Entertainment its agency for branded content following a three-way review that also included Los Angeles-based Ketchum Entertainment and Converge. MPG then struck a deal with cable network CMT to put the client’s trucks in two upcoming programs: a one-hour Aug. 25 special, The Ultimate Tailgating Vehicle, and a fall episode of CMT’s popular Trick My Truck, a Pimp My Ride-inspired program for the long-haul crowd.

Such deals are likely to begin happening more and more as the dollars devoted to the segment continue to climb. Spending on branded entertainment shot up 20 percent in 2005 to $4.2 billion, per PQ Media.

And MPG, the Havas-owned media agency, has been quietly restructuring its entertainment marketing arm in part to compete effectively in these types of reviews, but also generally to grab a bigger share of branded-content projects. It has created a new entity, B6 Integrated Entertainment, to coordinate branded-content strategies for clients including Nike, Danone, Reckitt Benckiser, PSA and France Telecom.

B6 will replace MPG Entertainment, which is being phased out as a service offering, in part because the agency wants to create branded-content strategies for both MPG and non-MPG clients, according to Guy Champniss, managing director, B6 London. In a related move designed to strengthen ties to the Hollywood production community, B6 has forged an alliance with Los Angeles-based Meteor Worldwide, best known for brokering a $200 million branded-entertainment agreement last year between NBC Universal and Volkswagen that yielded placements for the automaker in the films Herbie Fully Loaded and In Her Shoes.

Meteor and B6 will initially develop projects for 16 clients, but hope to grow their client roster quickly. The team is “actively prospecting” for opportunities with brand marketers beyond the MPG or Havas roster, said Champniss.

Meteor and B6 hope to score a studio coup à la Volkswagen-NBC Universal, said Meteor managing partner Dieter Abt. Mega-deal aside, “We currently have negotiations for five major deals across different platforms, expected to come to fruition in the third quarter,” he said.

Champniss, hired by MPG to expand its branded-entertainment offering in April 2005, is overseeing the rollout of B6. So far, offices have been established in London, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Germany and Mexico. The MPG Entertainment New York office, which won the International Trucks business, is just now being rebranded as B6, he said.

When he joined the agency, Champniss inherited a scattershot collection of entertainment initiatives from MPG regional offices, such as soap opera vignettes produced locally in France for TV channel TF1. The U.S. operation had started just before his arrival, with the opening of the New York office in November 2004.

“More and more, our clients are expressing an interest in global branded-entertainment opportunities,” said Champniss. And the former BBC and ITV producer wants those clients, and new prospects as well, to ramp up their commitments to the space. For example, he said, “They have not [previously] expressed an interest in owning the rights” to content. “We’re going back and saying, ‘You should take ownership in a property—it’s worth an awful lot if you can exploit it across a lot of territories.'” Hence, both Meteor and B6 will seek equity-sharing opportunities in film, television and digital, among other platforms.

The Meteor alliance will help bolster B6’s efforts both in the U.S. and globally. “They’ve got high-level Hollywood contacts, like the Sperbers of the world,” said one source, referring to Stephanie Sperber, the evp of Universal Studios Partnerships.

Champniss says that for now, Meteor will in effect serve as B6’s Hollywood office—not just because of the company’s contacts, but also to shepherd projects through production. “We want to guarantee to the brands that we have someone in L.A. who will go to the sets and make sure the product is right,” said Champniss. Such presence could prove critical as more and more foreign clients seek placements in Hollywood films, particularly those that play well in Europe and other markets outside the U.S. For example, MPG client Mango, the women’s fashion retailer based in Spain, is said to have been looking on and off for opportunities in U.S. films.

Meteor Worldwide started in 2003 with VW as its cornerstone client. Meteor’s Abt and MPG CEO Fernando Rodés Vila began talking last year about a possible alliance after Meteor secured the Universal deal with VW, which at the time was also an MPG client. Soon after, VW consolidated its media business with WPP’s MediaCom, but the agency and Meteor continued talks until striking their recent alliance.

The deal takes into account the smallest screens as well. Mobile content will be produced by Meteor’s resident shop, White Flower, which Abt’s co-managing partner, Ben Blanco, oversees. Though cautious about revealing specific details, he intimated that Nike and Danone might be gearing up for cross-platform productions involving mobile.

“Right now, we are educating clients on the future of the mobile branded space,” said Abt. “We are producing short mobisodes, and we are working with all the wireless carriers.”