Fox advertising looks forward

27Oct09

In a not-so-surprising update since the bulk of this article was written, Microsoft’s proposed partnership with Fox’s “Family Guy Presents: Seth and Alex’s Almost Live Comedy Show” – a prime example of Fox’s new advertising experimentation – it appears that Microsoft couldn’t take the racial, religious, and sexual stereotypes so prevalent in the MacFarlane brand of humor. Is it really less insulting when it’s a cartoon?

The death of the advertising industry has been predicted repeatedly for generations, each knell sounded by the advent of some new technology, and each one ringing untrue once the ad industry found ways to adapt to the new landscape. It is clear that the declines in attention, confidence and revenue signal an entrance into new territory.

Fox has morphed its Fox Atomic into Fox Digital Studios, a new branded business that will integrate branded content into News Corp’s slate of programming. But this is no ordinary integration. FDS has announced the hiring of one Roger Mincheff, formerly director of his own ad agency Spacedog Media, whose background integrating mainstream brands into the storylines of graphic novels seems a bit of a stretch. But both he and Peter Levinsohn, the current president of new media and digital distribution, see the connection as obvious. “What’s unique here is we’re storytellers, and we can create content for any genre — there are brands that make sense for any genre, too.” Evidently, Fox is not the only network to be devoting resources into new advertising formats. According to the article in AdAge, both ABC and NBC have invested in the branding of content in non-traditional formats, but with little success.

There are a number of notable ideas floating through this article. First, the professional identity of these advertisers is – as in traditional advertising – not about selling products. They are storytellers who find ways to integrate the brands that are part of the lifestyle of certain niche market audiences into content that speaks to those markets. Second, the integration of branding across all of News Corp’s holdings – which ranges from Myspace’s social network to IGN’s gamer-clique, as well as broadcasting, film, and Hulu’s digital distribution portal – signals a shift in the way that advertisers see their territory. Similar to the move into global full-service agency or “creative excellence,” the advertising-as-lifestyle-integration language used by these individuals notes an equivalent perceptive shift in the value provided by their services. Organizationally, the shuttering of Fox Atomic to create FDS illustrates a structural change in focus from content creation to the development of branded “content” – away from the creation of original programming and towards a new conception of branded storytelling that completely changes the audience’s relationship to the divide between story and ad.  Additionally, we see a slow adjustment to the consumer-user’s relationship to available technologies, and an acceptance in the networks that traditional relationships with advertisers will not reach the eyeballs and hearts of an increasingly fragmented audience.

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