Q&A: Ogilvy’s Scott on Branded Content

NEW YORK Doug Scott, one year into his role as executive director of branded content and entertainment at Ogilvy & Mather, has never been busier.

Last week, he launched a 12-week broadband series about “real food” for Unilever’s Hellmann’s on Yahoo! Food and saw the close of his efforts on The Starter Wife, a miniseries on USA that blended Unilever’s Pond’s into a story of a fortysomething woman rebounding from divorce. (The final episode ran last Thursday.)

The 38-year-old former consultant also is developing new projects for IBM and Kraft beverages as well as producing an original scripted series. All this comes after producing a dozen documentary short films about IBM meeting the technology needs of clients and 24 animated shorts for BP that can be seen online or at a showcase gas station in Los Angeles.

Scott, who deadpans that he’s overextended, recently took a break to reflect on his myriad projects, the state of branded content and why Sundance isn’t what it used to be. The following are excerpts from an hour-long interview with senior reporter Andrew McMains.

Q: How did the Hellmann’s effort come about?
A: The series is a joint production between us and Rock Shrimp, which is Bobby Flay’s new production company. It stars Dave Lieberman, who’s a former Food Network host, and Dave goes across the country talking to real people about their recipes and what real food is. Each episode is broken down into a series of segments, be it real-food stories or real-food restaurants or events such as state fairs, etcetera. Then there’s a cooking segment where Dave actually prepares a real-food recipe. He’s got a daily blog and then a whole host of other interactive developments that Yahoo has built out as part of its food channel.

How long did this one take to bring to fruition?
A year.

How about the miniseries The Starter Wife, which had been arranged through a media deal?
We were involved early on the script development side and then through pre-production, production, post and, then obviously, the current air. As a six-hour, five-episode miniseries with a whole host of marketing activities, it needed a lot more elements to it that required a longer lead.

Starter Wife was different than the Hellmann’s effort in that you were there from the get-go. How different are the challenges?
It’s definitely a different process. In the case of Starter Wife, MindShare bought the right property for Ponds based on the positioning of Pond’s brand and the campaign that had been created by the agency, in terms of [the target of] 42 and savvier. That fortysomething woman was spot on, so it was a round peg in a round hole. The opportunity there was more how do we extend and how do we embed the brand and the messaging of the brand than it was how do we create from the ground up. [It was] unlike the IBM business innovation series we did with CNBC where that was, who’s the host going to be? Who are our guests going to be? What’s the subject matter of each episode? What does the set look like that Maria Bartiromo was going to be on? That process was a much more ground-up build. [With Starter Wife] you have a book that Gigi Grazer wrote, which some believe is actually her story. The plot was there, certain elements were there, but we were involved in all aspects of it.

How did you meet Pond’s needs without overcommercializing the content?
Your question really cuts right to the heart of what everybody’s challenge is today, which is, how do you measure success? Is success measured by iTVX, a placement measurement software monitoring how long your product was on screen and, therefore, based on the media value and the GRP associated with the number of households that [it] reached that evening, translates into dollars? And subsequently I’m looking for a three-to-one ratio in terms of what typical media would cost me versus the value of what I’ve got, which also, by the way, [takes into account] the PR and all of the other aspects. Or is it more of a function of people’s perception of the brand?

So, how do you gauge success in content development?
First, obviously, is the total number of viewers. So, whether it’s the BP shorts or the mini-mentories for IBM or the number of viewers on a weekly basis for USA for Ponds, it just comes down to OK, how many people are you reaching? Secondly, it’s the word of mouth. Are people talking about it?

How else?
The impact on sales. Pond’s right now is really looking at its sales week over week, month over month to see what the impact was. I think the best example of that, in terms of impacted sales, is the Dove “Evolution” stuff, which has really continued to increase the cultural relevance of Dove and maintain its sales increase. With IBM, we’ve seen a lot of salespeople using those mini-mentories in the field.

What are the dangers of overexposing the brand?
If you take too heavy of a hand, peoples’ perception of the brand will be negative to the point that they feel like they’re trying to be sold. With Ponds, there were actually, during the editing process, scenes that were delivered to us where we asked them to reduce the amount of time that the product was in the shot.

What’s the trick to selling through an idea?
Aligning that idea with the current marketing initiatives that a brand is undertaking and putting in place the right strategic partners that extend the idea or the program beyond what a brand would expect traditionally.

How do you distinguish branded content from entertainment?
The way that I define branded content, first and foremost, is original programming that a brand owns rather than rents, and the storyline or the program subject matter emanates from the brand DNA. Entertainment is more of a platform that a brand can associate with, but does not directly relate to the brand itself. For instance, if you look at the IBM mini-mentories, such as Real Time Crime Center, it was compelling content and it was talking about a crime that really spoke at the core how it was solved through this 24/7 center that is powered by IBM.

Could it also be sponsoring an event?
I think one of the truly underleveraged opportunities out there is extending brand sponsorship of events into content because there are hundreds of millions of dollars, probably billions, spent across sporting events and concerts and several other initiatives. And all of that done with very unique production values can lend itself to content that, depending on the way that you approach it, can be branded content or entertainment.

What’s the biggest misconception about branded content?
What it is. People believe product placement is branded content or brand integration. From my view again, or the agency’s approach to what we’re doing, branded content is not only about the creation of original content from the ground up that is owned by the brand, but also all the ways in which you activate that—the PR strategy, the promotion strategy, the retail strategy, the event strategy, the advertising support. That approach really speaks to maximizing a brand’s investment in content.

How would you grade the industry’s content efforts to date?
B minus.

Why B minus?
I still think that we’re evolving in terms of the business models and how those models work. I think that we’re evolving in terms of the integrated media and the opportunity.

What marked the beginning of this era?
People started keeping track with BMW Films. It’s 2007 and people are still [saying], “BMW Films.” That in and of itself tells you the quality of work out there is not at a level where people can use other examples. I still run into people at conferences that talk about “Terry Tate Office Linebacker,” the work we did at Hypnotic, and they use that as a gold standard. It was great, but in the meantime, Mickey Pant, who was CMO at the time, has had two jobs since we did that. So what does that tell you about how we’re pushing things?

You skipped the Sundance Film Festival this year after 10 years in a row. Why?
Sundance is oversaturated with brands. It lost its allure.

What was the turning point?
Two years ago, maybe, when the restaurant and nightclub Tao in Las Vegas and New York took over the concert hall that we were using for Blender for music and turned it into a nightclub. It was just something about a nightclub on Main Street in Park City that people really don’t need.

So is it a victim of its own success?
Well the problem there is that Robert Redford and the Sundance Institute don’t benefit from any of the ambush marketing that takes place. So, it is definitely a victim of its success in that it has caused Sundance Institute challenges to differentiate official partners of the Sundance Film Festival to other competitive brands that are ambushing the event. … Somebody gave me a figure that the total dollars spent by non-official marketers is four times that of what Sundance actually brings in from official partners.

What’s the next Sundance?
Probably the Dubai International Film Festival, which is in its third year, just based on the growth of Dubai and what’s happening out there. Also, there is a new festival that’s recently launched in Rome.

IBM talked about how the money for the short documentaries Ogilvy produced would necessarily come out of the advertising budget. Is that as generally true with most clients and will that change?
We’re seeing more and more clients put line items in for branded content.

As of this year?
Within 2007-08. I think there’s a reevaluation again. If you look at owning content rather than renting it, it may be that you’re able to take some of your media dollars and bring that over or take some of your PR dollars or some of your promotion dollars. [Unilever vp, media, the Americas] Laura Klauberg is a perfect example of how she’s reevaluating her budgets. … More and more companies are looking at their overall marketing mix just as they did in the early days of the dot-coms where that same question was asked of the Internet when brands started to spend money on the Internet. … It’s about more efficiency, right? And greater reach and being smart about how you utilize all the different tools.

Whose work do you admire?
Jon Kamen and the work Radical has done and continues to do, be it Gamekillers or other projects. Michael Davies with his The 9, with Yahoo and Pepsi.

What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Innovative, passionate, overextended.

What three words would others use to describe you?
Obsessive, intuitive, demanding.

What’s on your nightstand?
Wikinomics and Walter Isaacson’s Einstein.

What’s the last CD that you bought?
The last CD I bought was probably four years ago due to the fact that I download all of my music. The last music I downloaded was actually “High School Musical” for my [seven-year-old] daughter.