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Madison Road: Where ads, shows converge


Former Paramount and Sony TV exec Tom Mazza has partnered with marketing vet Jak Severson to tie in advertiser content with the development and production of TV comedy, drama and reality series.

Madison Road Entertainment aims to create primetime series that subtly blend in advertisers. But don't confuse "branded entertainment" with "product placement," the execs insisted.

While product placement usually involves blatant shots of a Pepsi can or Chevrolet logo, Mazza and Severson said their company was inspired by shows like "Seinfeld" -- which deftly incorporated brands like Junior Mints into memorable storylines.

Similarly, Madison Road looks to "embed" brands inside programs geared toward broadcast, cable and syndication. The execs said there's a misconception on both sides of the fence that advertisers want to force their brand front and center on the screen.

"Product placement by itself is very abstract and doesn't resonate with consumers or advertisers," Severson said. "As a result, broadcasters have a hard time selling it. We try and steer the message around the organic ways in which brands play a role in our lives."

Madison Road joins a growing field of marketers attempting to find a new way to get their message across via primetime programming.

As viewers -- armed with digital video recorders like TiVo -- begin to tune out traditional 30-second spots, advertisers have been aggressively looking at new ways to get their message across via TV series. Media buyer Mindshare North America recently struck a deal with ABC to pitch, develop and produce shows for the Alphabet, allowing advertisers to weigh in on the programs they sponsor.

Producer Matti Leshem pacted with Pepsi last year to create branded TV projects for major advertisers such as the cola company. And earlier this year, ad giant Omnicom tapped Robert Reisenberg to run a new unit that would create TV programming as platforms for its clients.

Mazza said the initiatives by Mindshare and Omnicom were a "great validation of the business moving forward in this direction."

"There's nothing but people embracing this concept of advertising and programming coming together," he said. "We're happy deals like that are out there. It demonstrates the commitment that's out there. For Madison Road, we bring the connective tissue between advertisers and programming and bridge those two worlds."

But unlike those initiatives, Madison Road isn't connected to a TV outlet or major media buying conglom. Mazza and Severson said they plan to remain independent in order to work with as many advertisers and networks as possible. "We plan to develop shows that might involve clients of Mindshare, and we'll be selling to ABC as well," Mazza said.

Madison Road partners will also include TV scribe Rob Long ("Cheers"), who will consult on creative matters, and former Pepsi exec John Bronson.

Madison Road is looking to start developing now for the 2005-06 TV season. By including Long in the process, Mazza and Severson hope to send the message that they're still focused first and foremost on creative content. "Writers have embraced this concept," Severson said. "Especially if it helps the chances of bringing a show to air or pushing it off the bubble. This space is so misunderstood, but this is a creative company that has found a way to make the concept work that fundamentally changes the studio-financing model."

Severson and Mazza said the company is being funded by private, individual investors, most of whom have backgrounds in the "large packaged goods industry."

"We've been deliberate about our investors, we wanted to remain as independent and unaffiliated as possible," Severson said.

Mazza has been focusing on consulting work since leaving Sony in mid-2001 as part of the company's shakeup of its TV operations. The exec previously spent 10 years at Paramount, handling shows such as "Cheers" and "Frasier." Severson most recently served as CEO of ad/tech company NearWare Networks.

Posted on aef.com: February 23, 2004

 

Michael Schneider, Variety. February 20, 2004

Copyright © 2004, Reed Business Information. All rights reserved.