I first met Jae Goodman back in the early 2000s during his Hal Riney & Partners days. Jae was in his early thirties and was already ECD of that venerable agency. He and I shared a key client — the Sprint business. Sprint was a tough brand challenge in a tough market with a very demanding client. I was struck then by his thoughtfulness and grace under pressure and have since watched his star grow brighter as each year went by and each success piled up, from becoming Creative Artist Agency’s first Chief Creative Officer to founding Observatory.
Jae and I caught up recently and talked shop.
The entertainment industry seems like such a high-stakes environment — a huge investment can go into a movie or episodic content before the public votes with their attention and dollars. How do you minimize risk and maximize success when you work with entertainment vehicles?
Jae: Show me a business worth being in that isn’t a high-stakes environment! I think a bigger difference than the “stakes” is how public and fast success or failure is. No one remembers or tweets about that new toothpaste or sports drink flavor the way they remember or tweet about a movie or show on the night of the premiere. The dollars themselves are no greater than the venture capital at stake for product development in tech, for example, and the numbers pale in comparison to those spent speculatively on pharma R&D. It’s the public nature of the stakes that make them feel so perilously large.
As for the strategies for minimizing risk and maximizing success, they are similar to any other business: clear mission and vision, sound business strategy, strong collaborators with diverse (in every sense of the word) points of view, a portfolio approach, learning from failure and diagnosing success, taking the long view and not over-correcting based on early or small data-sets.
Does strategy play a different role in entertainment marketing than in other categories?
Jae: No. And yes.
No, it’s not different in that all marketing at every point in the funnel must be born from consumer, category, and cultural insight that leads to a differentiated strategy and well-executed creative expressions.
And, yes, it’s different in that a brand’s overall strategy must now take into account this “new upper funnel” wherein brands are creating content — aka entertainment — that attracts and engages audiences rather than interrupts them as advertising does. This brings a whole lot of new variables into play that are not merely creative, they must live way upstream as part of the business strategy and marketing strategy.
Before anyone sets out to create brand value and drive consumer action through entertainment, we as marketers must determine the strategic utility of Entertainment. Put simply, we must know why we’re creating it. Is it because our TV advertising is less effective thanks to subscriptions, time-shifting, mobile ad blockers? Yes? Okay, then how do we re-assess and re-imagine our old TV KPIs (reach, frequency, context) with those more aligned with entertainment (engagement, impact)? How do we reassess the strategic allocation of production and media budgets? How do we adapt to the asymmetric timing and hyper-collaborative environment of the entertainment ecosystem? How do we adapt to shared creative control with collaborators, co-financiers, and distributors? How do we account (literally) for direct revenue and/or profit from entertainment when our shareholders invested in a company that makes CPGs, phones, cars, or financial instruments? None of these are tactical questions!
Of course, then, back to the “no, it’s not different” above, brand entertainment must be an expression of the brand’s mission, vision, values, and marketing strategy, and must do more than attract, engage, inform and entertain: it must simultaneously drive brand and business results.
Not that I have thought about this at all.
What can CMOs and agency execs learn from the entertainment industry?
The power of collaboration.
The power of instinct.
The power of patience.
Collaboration: Advertising agencies pit teams of creatives against each other, killing off ideas to get to “the one.” Entertainment has writer’s rooms where the best idea doesn’t “win,” the best idea is supported by another idea that makes it better, and then another idea, and then another… and the collaborators in entertainment have vastly different (and, hopefully, increasingly diverse) backgrounds and roles with simultaneous respect for the value each of those roles brings to the collaborative, iterative process. I’m not saying entertainment isn’t cut-throat and competitive because of course, it is, but the creative process is much more collaborative and with a much broader range of collaborators. The process is healthier, and it feels better for all involved.
Brands do a version of this, too, with agencies forced to constantly compete against each other and are then “rewarded” with momentary client collaboration. However, all five winners of Effie’s 50th anniversary “5 for 50: the five most enduring brands of the last fifty years that are best positioned for the next fifty” are part of decades-enduring brand-agency relationships. Nike + Wieden, Apple + Chiat, MasterCard + McCann, IBM + Ogilvy, Dove + Ogilvy. Enduring partnerships and long-standing collaborations are key to entertainment success, too, and far more common than in Advertising.
Instinct: History is littered with quants who claimed to crack the code on the perfect algorithmic combination of talent, genre, timing and more, only to have the “perfect combination” fail because the movie or show was a bad idea. Humans have instincts for a reason — a pretty fundamental reason called survival, for starters. The idea that we can test our way into or out of a good idea or the “right” idea is a fool’s errand. At its best, no industry trusts instinct more than entertainment. Very few Oscar speeches or Comicon panels begin with, “Following rigorous quantitative A/B testing and exhaustive focus grouping, we determined that…” Can you imagine testing the idea of Nomadland or Parasite? Or even Star Wars or The Avengers? “Oh, yeah, Herman Kowalski D.D.S. here and first I want to say thank you for the pretzels and validated parking… so about this so-called movie of yours… I’m gonna believe all these people in various colored tights all have super-powers, but not from the same place or even the same time period because they all have different backstories, yet somehow all of them manage to be at the same place at the same time when disaster or evil or both strike and then, despite their super-human-ness they’re all so gracious and kind-hearted and ego-less that they band together to conquer to save humanity? And it’s not a comedy? Pass. No one will see this movie. What? It’s a franchise? How many movies? Bob Iger paid what? Please may I be excused from this focus group so I can go short Disney stock?”
Speaking of which, directly following the LucasFilm acquisition I found myself in a small-ish discussion with Mr. Iger. Someone asked, “why?” He replied, “Star Wars is the story of our time. It really was not more complicated than that.”
Patience: The Internet and social media and DTC have addicted marketers to instant feedback. Scripts in entertainment can take years to develop, and then years more to have the right talent attached, the right studio or streamer to believe in it and produce it in faraway lands and at great expense. Of course, brand entertainment can and should align with marketing calendars, but that doesn’t mean that episodic content by and for a brand that’s distributed on HBO should be developed at the same pace as your next banner or Instagram post.
So, yeah. Collaboration. Instinct. Patience. The outcome is content and experiences that humans are willing to pay to engage with. Advertising has to buy attention. That is a core difference that marketers must address.
In the entertainment industry, the stars are brands themselves and that seems to have a significant impact on the appeal of the final product. A great star can elevate an okay story, and a great story can elevate an okay actor. What can other industries learn from that mutual dependency?
Jae: See Collaboration, Instinct and Patience above. Maybe add Trust.
What marketing innovations do you see coming out of the entertainment space that can be readily adopted by other industries, brands and agencies?
Jae: If you’re looking for marketing innovation, I’d look anywhere but the entertainment industry. Perhaps because the product itself is so creative and/or engaging, I’d say the actual marketing of entertainment is some of the most conservative and un-evolved. I would love for a studio head to call and ask us to evolve their marketing beyond trailers, one-sheets, and their digital equivalent.
Netflix’s brand partnerships division is really the only one innovating. They’ve created a collaborative process between brands and Netflix properties that’s wonderfully mutually beneficial. Brands get to engage with the leading non-ad-supported platform, and Netflix properties get the power of consumer brand marketing sophistication and reach. They have a strict rule that I love: every bit of content has to be Netflix quality, and must create moments of consumer joy. The partnerships on Stranger Things alone: New Coke, Eggo, Lyft… I’m a big fan. (Full disclosure, Netflix Brand Partnerships are an Observatory client, but we had absolutely nothing to do with the amazing Stranger Things work. I wish we did!)
You were nice enough to like our recent essay “What CMOs and agency execs can learn from Marvel”. What part of the Marvel experience is most adoptable by other industries, brands, and agencies?
Jae: Two words: franchise management. The balance of consistency and brand elasticity is perfect.
What successes are you most proud of, and why?
Jae: This is going to sound political but it is just true: every client who has ever trusted us to evolve their marketing toward content that attracts and engages consumers (aka people) rather than interrupt them is, because of that, a success story. When I look at the logos of the many dozens of brands who’ve trusted and continue to trust us, I have a hard time believing it even though I remember every minute of our relationship, every step of the journey, every marketer who said “yes.”
The same is true of every colleague who has trusted and trusts Observatory enough to become a part of it.
When prodded: I’m particularly proud of all the firsts, especially because we’ve never, ever said “let’s be the first to…” We just did what we thought would be most effective for our brand client, and with surprising frequency it has resulted in a first-ever.
When prodded for specifics: Okay, fine twist my arm for something specific, I am exceptionally proud of our recent work with Los Angeles Unified School District and Fender Play Foundation. At the height of the pandemic school-from-home, Fender gifted one thousand and then five thousand new guitars, basses, and ukuleles to some of the hardest-hit kids in Los Angeles’ public schools, then developed an interactive curriculum alongside LAUSD music teachers. Our biggest role was in bringing the first set of 1,000 kids together for a virtual commencement called “Play For LA” where the kids and teachers performed and we had speeches and performances from Miguel, Este Haim, Chris Martin from Coldplay… it was life-affirming and I am not exaggerating. I watched it with my then-locked-down family in our LA living room and sobbed uncontrollably through the entire thing. I was, and am, so proud of everyone involved, most of all the kids and teachers.
The agency world has been in quite a state of flux for a few years now. Do you have any predictions of how the agency landscape may change in the next few years?
Jae: None. We’re just going to do our best every day and hope our clients and potential clients see results worth sticking around for.
About Jae Goodman:
Jae Goodman is CEO of Observatory, one of Fast Company’s “World’s Most Innovative Companies” in 2020 and again in 2021.
Observatory is an agency for the content era. Backed by Stagwell Media, Observatory provides corporate clients with strategic and creative solutions that leverage the power of popular culture to build brands and drive business results.
Observatory seeks clients who are purpose driven and content led, and collaborates with them to create campaigns that attract and engage audiences rather than interrupt and annoy them.
Observatory clients include many of the world’s leading brands, with work in virtually every category and on (almost) every continent. Select case studies are viewable at ObservatoryAgency.com.
Observatory has earned four Cannes Lions Grand Prix in four different categories (Film, Cyber, PR, Entertainment), thirty Cannes Lions in total, ten Webby awards, and four Emmys from eleven Emmy nominations.
The agency is also responsible for the first and second brand films ever accepted to the Sundance Film Festival, 2018 YouTube Ad of the Year “That Rewrites the Rules” and AdWeek Media Plan of the Year 2020.
Goodman has been named to Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 1000, AdWeek’s Creative 100, Ad Age’s Creativity 50, and PR Week’s Hot List. Goodman serves on the Board of Effie Worldwide and is a two-time Cannes Lions Jury President.
Goodman lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children, where he serves on the Board of Trustees of St. John’s Hospital, the Board of Pacific Neuroscience Institute and is on the faculty at his alma mater, UCLA.
Recently named to Fast Company’s 2020 and 2021 Most Innovative Companies list, Observatory is a modern full-service creative ad agency based in LA and New York, with deep roots in entertainment. Starting in 2006 as CAA Marketing, a division of Creative Artists Agency (CAA), the agency became independent in late 2017 with backing from The Stagwell Group.
Observatory’s marketing approach, built around entertainment, combines its entertainment and cultural intelligence and relationships with Stagwell’s data-driven consumer insights. The agency approaches entertainment from the inside, with craftsmanship honed by the best creators in Hollywood, coupled with robust analytics and strategy that informs everything it does.
The result? A whole new approach to the full-service agency. With traditional advertising waning, Observatory is growing and competing directly with the world’s leading ad agencies. The agency takes particular interest in purpose-driven brands and a culture-driven approach suited to driving social impact while increasing brand reach. Whether they’re challenging some of the biggest, most established brands in the world or working with newer brands for whom riskier creative campaigns are required to make them a household name, Observatory operates at the nexus of entertainment and advertising. The agency prides itself on being an influential and inventive collaborator, helping brands create culturally-relevant, highly impactful brand stories that drive business results.
Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Zillow Group, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Ulta Beauty, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.