Monetizing Content: Brands as Producers

March 16, 2018

Marketers face immense challenges to get their messages to consumers in entertaining and inviting ways. Stride brand gum produced Heaven Sent, a television event broadcast live where skydiver Luke Aikins jumped out of a plane at 25,000 feet, without a parachute or protective gear, and landed safely in a net. The deal involved production, licensing, broadcasting, and unions. Mondelēz shared how its marketers and counsel partnered to maneuver through the maze of internal and external stakeholders and, by creating content consumers want to watch, helped deliver ROI.

Doug Wood, partner at Reed Smith LLP: Monetizing content isn’t a new idea for marketers. Much of the early TV programming was produced by advertisers as a way to engage a captive audience. Mary, how do you define monetizing content, and why should brands care about it?

Mary A. Carragher, Chief Counsel of Global Marketing and Media at Mondelēz International, Inc.: Monetizing content is leveraging media partners and others to create engaging, immersive content that consumers want to watch, and that advertisers can own and profit from. It’s a way for the brand to diversify its advertising, extend the brand’s reach, and connect with consumers in new ways. It can have a “watercooler” effect if the content goes viral. And it presents opportunities to get ahead of the curve with tech like VR, artificial intelligence, and e-sports. I think the most important thing for brands is to invest in content consumers actually want to watch, hopefully recoup your investment, possibly generate revenue, and create ownable content for further opportunities.

Wood: Mondelēz brand Stride gum was behind the production of Heaven Sent, a program broadcast on FOX that featured a man jumping from a plane at 25,000 feet without a parachute or a wind suit and landing safely. When putting together an event like this, there were a great deal of things to consider. First, let’s discuss the structure of the deal to create and distribute the show.

Carragher: We engaged a third-party production company to produce the entire event. We needed a company that was willing to be responsible for all of the production assets: talent, clearance, and logistics. The distribution of the show was Stride’s responsibility. The brand partnered with FOX to broadcast the stunt as an hour long TV program, and with Google to live-stream the event as it was happening.

Wood: What were some of the challenges involved in working out these agreements?

Carragher: The broadcast agreement with FOX was challenging to work through, because there was interplay between Stride, FOX, and the production company. Each agreement interlocked with the others, so we had to stay on top of it all. For example, FOX required an executive producer of their choosing to head up the project, which obviously required the production company to agree with the stipulation.

Wood: I imagine formalizing guidelines around the production itself was key to the event’s success. Many companies have very rigorous guidelines around their logos and brand colors, and we’d like to see that same rigor around production guidelines. Brands need to act like producers in these situations, and not just advertisers.

One additional note on production: I’d recommend looking into shooting in secondary markets to alleviate costs. There are tax credits in certain states. For instance, Illinois has a 30 percent tax credit for all productions above $50,000.

Carragher: Other major areas of concern were contingency planning and the force majeure clause, which is something we typically don’t spend too much time on. There were so many variables for this stunt, and Mondelēz is not a big risk-taking company. It really shows how confident we were in Aikins and his team to approach this in a safe, reliable way. We had a meteorologist on the team, as the weather was a deciding factor of whether we could even attempt the stunt. We had a lot of discussions with FOX and the production company on the right to terminate, and which force majeure events would trigger what actions. On top of all of that, creative approvals wound up being a sticking point —FOX wanted to approve everything the production company was doing, and how FOX assets were being used in the broadcast. But their insistence on the right executive producer ended up being a blessing, as he had produced daredevil stunts before, and was a source of comfort for the brand, the broadcaster, and the production team.

Wood: Insurance is typically a mundane issue in productions, but I imagine this was a different story.

Carragher: Let me say this: it was an incredible relief when Aikins hit the landing net safely. Try and imagine the first conversation with the organization’s internal risk management team: “We’re going to host a stunt where someone jumps out of an airplane without a parachute and lands in a net.” We needed to understand what everyone’s requirements were — what level of insurance our team was comfortable with, and what type of insurance FOX required of the production company. And we had contingency plans for everything. I have a 25-page document laying out the various contingencies if something tragic happened, down to relatively minor complications. Our litigation counsel read through the holding statements to make sure we weren’t inadvertently admitting liability. And on the day of the shoot, everyone had everyone else’s phone numbers in case we needed to make a decision on the fly.

Wood: Tell us about working with SAG-AFTRA.

Carragher: If the shoot itself wasn’t stressful enough, 48 hours before the broadcast the unions got involved. We learned that one of the on-air talent and one of the stunt jumpers were union talent, and the union wasn’t comfortable with the level of safety around the event. They came out to the location, and our business and production people walked them through the safety procedures. If you watch the documentary, you see how involved the team, the brand, and the production company were in ensuring everyone’s safety. There was a sports psychologist working with Aikins to make sure he was mentally prepared for the jump, we had a meteorologist constantly monitoring the weather, and now the union wanted us to replace a jumper who’s been working with Aikins his entire career two days before the jump. They issued a stop work order and said they’d allow the production to move forward if Aikins wore a parachute, which obviously would have made the whole thing moot. We were concerned about consumers feeling intentionally misled, as the event had been promoted as “no parachute, no wind suit.” It all worked out in the end, though, as Aikins jumped without a suit and landed safely. The union’s rules are complicated, and you need expert counsel to ensure compliance. We figured things out about an hour before the plane took off.

Wood: How did you remain calm during all of this?

Carragher: We had to trust the team representing Aikins knew what they were doing. It was incredible to watch the professionalism with which they handled everything.

Wood: One area that wasn’t an issue for this production was with FTC disclosures. The FTC ruled that product placement did not require disclosure, but added a clause referred to as a “deceptive door holder,” which guards against ads disguised as something else. This wasn’t an issue for Heaven Sent, as it was a very real show with entertainment value. This show was all about Aikins diving out of the plane, but at the same time, it provided great exposure for the Stride brand.

Carragher: The brand was light, but strategically in the right places. One of the best shots we got, which was used heavily by the press was Aikins holding his son with his helmet on, and on the side of the helmet it clearly reads, “Heaven Sent by Stride Gum.” That was incredible exposure.

Q&A with Mary A. Carragher, chief counsel of global marketing and media at Mondelēz International, Inc.

Q. How did you measure success?

A. The press coverage was tremendous. We calculated 1.5 billion impressions generated. It was on just about every news broadcast that evening, and footage of him landing in the net was being shown around the world. We generated a significant level of brand exposure, the company got a lot of good press from it, and we were able to engage with consumers in a fresh, novel way.

Q. How did you get the brand to agree to do this kind of risky thing?

A. Stride had a campaign running around the theme of extreme experiences, and this fit in very nicely with that. Gum is a category that’s struggling to stay relevant and increase sales, and this was a way for the brand to do something really different, unique, and attention-grabbing. And the way Aikins and his team approached it, from a mathematical, meteorological, and training perspective, made us comfortable with the idea of the stunt. But this was not entered into lightly. We consulted with all relevant internal stakeholders, the chief growth officer was involved, and the CEO was aware of everything as it unfolded.


"Monetizing Content: Brands as Producers." Mary A. Carragher, Chief Counsel of Global Marketing and Media at Mondelēz International, Inc.; Doug Wood, Partner at Reed Smith LLP. ANA Advertising Law and Public Policy Conference, 3/16/18.

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