Ad man has just the prescription for ailing industry: big sponsorship

Jonathan Cloonan has a way of coming up with ideas that has helped him get ahead in advertising fast


New media is changing the face of advertising, with evolving technology forcing agencies to re-think how and where they advertise.

While it is largely accepted by consumers that they need to put up with advertising to get free content, new technologies allow them to skip television commercials and block pop-ups.

As a result, the future will see product placement and branded messages interweaved into entertaining shows that appeal to a mass audience.

Dubliner Jonathan Cloonan, recognised by Forbes magazine for his success in the world of advertising and media, says broadcasters are now working more closely than ever with creative agencies to come up with branded content ideas.

He says the integration of brands into programming, as evidenced by Head & Shoulders China’s Got Talent , is changing the face of advertising.

“Procter & Gamble brought the Got Talent programme to China. It was called Head & Shoulders China’s Got Talent. Four hundred million people tuned in. One of the key judges was the Head and Shoulders spokesperson.”

Cloonan, who was recently named on the coveted Forbes 30 under 30 list, began his advertising career in 2010 when he became a WPP fellow.

“I decided to apply for the WPP fellowship. Approximately 2,000 people apply each year and only eight are chosen, so I needed to differentiate myself from the other applicants.

“I took the WPPfellowship Twitter handle and tweeted about WPP and advertising. I also began blogging about WPP, advertising campaigns I liked and brands I thought could do better. By the time they came to interview me they had already heard of me. They said I was either passionate or psychotic. Thankfully they felt I was passionate.”

Cloonan began his WPP fellowship at JWT (J Walter Thompson) in London, the ad agency famous for putting the hole in the polo mint and creating the Andrex puppy. He then worked as an account director at GroupM ESP in Singapore, before moving into digital strategy at Ogilvy & Mather in New York.

Speaking at a William Fry event to mark World Intellectual Property Day, he said advertising has become a numbers game, with big data fast becoming the oxygen of marketing businesses, helping them to become more competitive. Companies want to know how much to spend, what brands should be supported, and the return on their investment.

“We are moving from Mad Men to math men. Advertising now requires algorithms, tracking, and analytics,” he said.

It is also becoming easier to collate this data, with the number of people with an online presence on the rise.

Pre-natal profiles
“One in four kids have an online presence before they are born. Some 93 per cent have a digital footprint by the time they are two. When they are in the womb, their mums and dads upload sonograms and then the first pics after they are born are uploaded to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc,” he said.

The companies may know who their customers are and what they like, but none of that is any good if it can’t reach them.

More and more advertising agencies are turning to entertainment to reach consumers in the increasingly competitive advertising space. “Ten years ago I was sitting with my family in our living room watching Baywatch . The only distraction would have been my mum screaming she wanted to watch Blind Date or someone knocking at the door.

“Now there are 15 different experiences going on in the living room. One person is texting, another is on the laptop, another is on the tablet.”

As a result, brands want their products to be seen in between entertaining shows and on them.

One example where the undisputed success of creating entertaining content can be seen is in the American sitcom I Love Lucy , which was the most watched show in the United States in four of its six seasons.

Each week viewers were subjected to a strong dose of Phillip Morris cigarette product placements and branded commercials while they watched the show. But, these commercials did more than just run during the ad breaks of I Love Lucy – they actually financed the entire show after Philip Morris became the official sponsor of the sitcom.

“The first four seasons of I Love Lucy was paid for by a cigarette company. Advertising is becoming more about entertainment. Big brands are trying to bring successful programmes over.”

Cloonan has been at the forefront of the advertising-entertainment combo, having created his own “medutainment” TV show last year. The health and wellbeing programme, called Dr You, was number one in the Vietnamese ratings.

Dr You was a medical show – it was entertaining and educational at the same time. Twenty-five per cent of the content suggested people should use a particular pharmaceutical brand.”

Social media
While the concept of placing pharmaceutical brands into a programme is nothing new – posters for Nuvaring, a contraceptive device, have been in the background of NBC’s Scrubs for many seasons – Dr You is entirely sponsored by a pharmaceutical company.

As well as branded content and product placement, social media is also playing an ever increasing role in advertising management he says. This is because the public have been given a microphone through social media to tell companies what they want.

“It used to be top down: companies telling customers what they wanted. Now it’s bottom up. In American Idol , all the ads were focused around Mariah Carey as she was the big star. On social media sites though, everyone was discussing Nicki Minaj. No one cared about Mariah Carey. Overnight they changed their advertising focus to Nicki Minaj.”

The final cog in the wheel of future advertising is branded utility. This concept involves the provision of meaningful marketing that improves people’s lives and adds value to the user. It’s about brands going the extra mile, giving something back while advertising their products at the same time.

“After Hurricane Sandy, Duracell took to the streets in branded jeeps to help people with energy and power.”

The company provided charging stations, which had the double effect of promoting Duracell and giving people free services such as wifi, phone and computer chargers and, of course, batteries.

Similarly, the Budweiser plant in Georgia halted production of its acclaimed beer in favour of water, shipping 44,000 cases of canned water to New York in the Hurricane Sandy aftermath.

“There is a lot of skipping technology out there which is disrupting our industry. Companies now have to go above and beyond to spread their brand.”