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Can Brands Copy the 'Barbie' Model?
Ankler panels at Advertising Week New York examined what lies ahead for branded content as traditional Hollywood evolves, as well as AI
While it’s certainly not a new form of advertising, a confluence of events within the entertainment industry has set the stage for branded content to make an evolutionary leap over the next few years, according to a panel of experts at an Ankler panel at Advertising Week New York in Manhattan last week.
The biggest Hollywood headline this summer was Barbie, based on the Mattel IP, whose $1.38 billion worldwide receipts made it the highest-grossing film in Warner Bros.’ 100-year history. Its success was a welcome event financially and culturally, but whether that model can be replicated for future branded content is an open question. “It was a combination of a lot of wonderful things — a wonderful script, a wonderful filmmaker, great talent, a willing company and a brand that allowed them to have fun with the brand and a phenomenal marketing team,” said panelist Alison Temple, CEO at Wild Card Creative Group, who was joined on stage by Annie Granatstein, VP of content marketing, Marriott; Angela Matusik, founder of A.M. Studios; and James Knight, global director, media & entertainment at visual effects company AMD for the Brand as Entertainment panel. It was moderated by Ankler writer Peter Kiefer.
“Given all of that, and the timing of it (coming) at a time of strong girl empowerment with the Taylor Swift craze and Beyoncé… We’re all having this moment… but I think there are different versions of that and I don’t think the ‘Barbie phenomenon’ is going to be a business model,” she said.
Still, the recently resolved WGA strike and the ongoing SAG/AFTRA strike, which just passed the 100-day mark, reveal weaknesses in an industry that has yet to sort out its business model after a decade-long shift to streaming. That insecurity among executives and creatives, the panelists argued, likely creates new opportunities for brands and advertisers to partner with Hollywood to explore ways to incorporate branded content on their platforms in new ways.
“We know that the entertainment industry is going through a bit of chaos and I think that creatives for the first time, many of them, sure, maybe they would do a commercial in the past. And there’s a long tradition of amazing filmmakers making commercial for brands for agencies in between projects and those are often branded films and commercials,” said Matusik. “But there’s a shift happening with other auteurs or independent talents who’re trying to figure out how to finance their production and the usual [revenue] streams are disappearing and they’re suddenly saying: what about brands? I don’t think that anything is clear. The Barbie film is a product in and of itself. Yes, it will sell product for Mattel and increase the stock price but it’s making a helluva lot of money as film — so it’s a unicorn.”
Marriott’s Granatstein highlighted two series that the company recently produced. The first, Travel By Design, is a seven-episode short form mini-doc series that blends a travel and architecture show, and just debuted on Amazon. The other series is called Power of Travel, which spotlights individuals seeking change in the world through travel. “We’re about values alignment with our audience and expressing what Marriott stands for,” said Granatstein, who noted that Marriott produced both series on its own before it entered into any sort of an agreement with a distributor. “There’s not a lot of content of that length (about three minutes per Power of Travel episode) on Amazon or any of the streamers. So it’s [Amazon] doing something new for the first time, [Marriott] doing something new for the first time and we’re doing it together.”
Knight of AMD, which is a technology company that creates powerful microprocessors that have become the industry standard in filmed production, made the case that technology has to be an integral part of the branded content conversation. As technology advances and improves, it eases the burdens on filmmakers to get everything exactly right in one take which allows for greater experimentation on both the creative and the business side of filmmaking.
“Art and technology are completely simpatico and one doesn’t exist without the other. That’s a great story for consumers but you got to tell it in a way so it doesn’t take away from the suspension of disbelief,” said Knight. “So you wouldn’t find our logo in Barbie. Why would that matter? But in Alien for example when they’re putting a chip in Michael Fassbender’s head you can see the AMD logo on the chip because it adds to the suspension of disbelief. It’s something that consumers say: I have seen that — it’s technology-based and your subconscious allows you to believe that and say this thing seems more credible to me and suspend your disbelief and say this is my reality for the next 90 minutes,” he said.
THE AI QUESTION
Kiefer also moderated the A.I: Friend or Foe? conversation with Dan Jasnow, a partner of the law firm ArentFox Schiff who specializes in A.I., the metaverse and blockchain, and works with a range of clients to determine how these new technologies are impacting a variety of industries.
Jasnow highlighted how the debate over what’s known as human authorship has emerged as a central question when it comes to A.I. and how the courts and the U.S. copyright office are assessing how to move forward as generative A.I. becomes a bigger threat to a variety of creative industries. He applauded the negotiators both from the AMPTP and Hollywood guilds for tackling the extremely thorny issue during their recent negotiations (and ongoing at least with regard to SAG/AFTRA) even if, as some critics have pointed out, it’s too early to realistically apply meaningful guardrails to this quickly evolving technology.
“The best parallel is music streaming and Napster of the early 2000s when music was being digitized and things were being pirated at scale and everyone was sharing songs on Napster and other platforms and the music industry stepped into that and started suing college students and making a lot of noise about copyrights being infringed,” said Jasnow. “They weren’t going to tolerate it. That led to the end of the end of the wild west of the music streaming ear and the beginning of a period of music streaming that respected copyright owners and a new model for compensation in streaming. We’re definitely in the wild west era of generative A.I.”
He added, “We all have to be thinking about how to impose guardrails on the use of generative A.I. and to strike the right balance and part of that is recognizing that it’s not going to replace everyone and that it needs to be used under supervision. I think the agreement that we’ve seen with the DGA and WGA — they’re trying to strike that balance. [Under the WGA and DGA deal] a studio can’t deploy generative A.I. without consulting with a writer nor can a director use generative A.I. without consulting with a studio because that could lead to a forfeiture of their copyrights.”