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BSS 2014: digital handshakes

Camaraderie’s Brent Kennedy, Lightbox’s Maria Mahony and filmmaker Joel Kefali talked about the shifting space between advertisers, agencies and content creators in one of two BSS sessions strongly focused on digital.

BSS 2014 panel

The panel (l – r): Brent Kennedy, Joel Kefali, Maria Mahony; moderator Oliver Sealy

Kennedy’s an old and extremely well-respected hand in the ad game with a plenty of gongs to his name, including ones from Cannes Lions. Last year he partnered with Images & Sound to form Camaraderie, which seeks to build new collaborations between content creators and brand marketers.

He’s not the only one inhabiting that space, with companies also looking to work in similar areas including Woven Messages and session moderator Oliver Sealy’s Augusto. Kennedy is, however, one of those better able to understand and explain the concepts at play.

Teaming up advertisers, agencies and creatives to create new opportunities is hardly a new idea. As Kennedy observed: why are soap operas so-called? Helping players on all sides to get a solid grip on the opportunities available in the present landscape is one of Kennedy’s main strengths.

Mahony’s Lightbox is, if you like, a potential client for Kennedy. Head of Programming and Local Content, she comes with plenty of experience in the digital realm. Previously manager of youth and preschool channels at TVNZ, she worked on the launch of U Live, the first official Facebook social TV experience, and establishing TVNZ’s youth platforms across twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Those with longer memories will recall that the youth-skewing U took over from TVNZ 6, the kids/family ad-free channel paid for by government to help encourage uptake of the digital Freeview platform ahead of DSO. TVNZ introduced U to drive some revenue from the channel. When it closed the channel down, TVNZ admitted to mistakes in its understanding of the opportunities around digital. Since then it’s bought into and later exited TiVo and Igloo.

It’s said one learns more from one’s mistakes than successes. Mahony was very positive about the future of Lightbox, which is just moving its first wave of subscribers off month-long free trials and onto the balance sheet.

Mahony noted that the company was very open to NZ content, but raised a couple of flags. Lightbox isn’t a free to air service, so NZ On Air can’t support anything it commissions. Lightbox presently doesn’t have the budgets to commission anyway, although it is committed to paying proper licensing fees for programming, said Mahony.

Carrying local content is seen here as a marketing point, and a number of the other services in the market have recently been announcing deals in that are.

The local content gap is the sort of space in which Kennedy’s Camaraderie might well play to everybody’s benefit. It’s a model TVNZ has experimented with, for example on the currently-airing Purina Pound Pups to Dog Stars.

Kefali was a well-known TVC and MV director as one half of Special Problems, where he made Echoes, one of the short films commissioned by Lexus. Since leaving Special Problems, he’s made one of the Loading Docs shorts (watch Baba here), directed the MV for Katy Perry’s This is How We Do and won an MTV Video Music Award for his MV for Lorde’s Royals.

In recent years there’s been a lot of spin around social media as a business tool, around the importance of engagement as a metric and the need to have conversations with your consumers. Much of it has proved to be twaddle, because – as any business knows – you make sales or you don’t, and if you don’t you’re not a business for much longer.

Having thousands of twitter followers and tens of thousands of YouTube views sounds impressive, and they plus $4 will get you a flat white.

Kennedy’s expertise is in understanding what to make of all that noise, all those metrics, and all that data that can be collected, sliced and diced. Understanding how to take advantage of the opportunities out there is important because, whether you believe that social media holds the keys to advertising nirvana or that it’s just another way to waste time online, the old models through which brands spoke to consumers are becoming less effective and, therefore, more expensive.

The goal is a social media campaign that delivers measurable increases in sales, which has been an elusive target most of the time to date, although campaigns to build brand awareness have claimed measurable successes.

Kefali spoke about the Lexus-branded short film Special Problems had made, noting that – second time around – Lexus has partnered with Vimeo to put the films online, which is a much better demographic fit for the brand than YouTube’s admittedly far larger audience.

In response to a question about how edgy brand-supported content could be, Kefali noted that there were “clean” and “swearing” edits of the film for use in different situations and markets. There was a “Singapore cut”, for example. Kefali also recalled TV work he’d done for Smirnoff where the client was very open, but there were restrictions on what alcohol related behaviour was allowed on TV screens.

There are brand-supported outlets such as Vice and Adult Swim, which are considerably edgier than most material that goes out via mainstream broadcasters.

Kennedy noted that such ideas as Lexus’ commissioning of short films worked best as part of a larger strategy. Rarely would they deliver measurable benefits in isolation.

One thing that’s clear, as NZ On Air’s Brenda Leeuwenberg made clear in the weekend’s other session devoted to digital, this isn’t something for give to the intern as a break from making coffee. There’s real skill and experience required to play well in this space.

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