Yahoo Takes Another Stab at Branded Content with GroupM

Yahoo’s attempts to develop branded content for advertisers haven’t always worked out, but the company hopes a new partnership with GroupM will pay dividends. The companies will work together to develop video programming and complementary content on behalf of brands.

Moms and job seekers are among the groups Yahoo will target with its branded entertainment initiatives, which will begin once the agency wins commitments from clients.

“We’re looking to create content from the ground up and ensure the brand plays a role in that dialogue,” Erika Nardini, Yahoo’s VP of packaging, told ClickZ News. She expects advertisers to be involved with “the traditional sponsorship model to how we drive thematic integration, to how we think about product placement.”

Yahoo, like its competitors AOL, MSN and Google, are clamoring for more brand advertiser dollars. For Yahoo, that means stressing its content and display ad offerings over search advertising to differentiate it from Google.

During a June tech conference in New York, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz stressed the company’s branding capabilities through display ads. “[Brands] have to put a persona out there…The way you put a persona out there is to be able to present something, and that’s what display advertising is,” she said.

The new initiative will go beyond wrapping brand logos or display ads around content. In addition to deeper brand integration, the partners plan to develop community features around the programs.

Yahoo now features original content sponsored by advertisers like Scottrade and Dunkin’ Donuts, but its branded content efforts have been hit or miss.

In 2006, the company made a splash when it announced plans for branded mini-sites. Though the sites would not be paid for by advertisers, they were expected to spur ad sales from relevant advertisers, and possibly the featured brands themselves.

For instance, when it launched the effort, which was called “branded universes,” Yahoo Games included a section dedicated to all things Nintendo Wii. At the time of the launch in December 2006, Yahoo said it planned to develop 100 sites in the coming year spotlighting “key entertainment brands.” Though Yahoo announced a few additional “universes” early the following year for video game, TV, and movie titles, it left the project hanging without coming close to achieving its 100-site objective.

In 2004 Yahoo had better results through a partnership with Mark Burnett Productions, hosting and selling ads and original content tied to reality show “The Apprentice.” The firm re-upped with Yahoo in a similar deal the following year in conjunction with its boxing show, “The Contender.”

Yahoo hopes the project it is embarking on with GroupM proves more fruitful. However, the companies won’t begin production on any new show until specific advertisers sign on. “We’ll plan to mobilize around connecting with key advertisers; that’s really the next stage,” explained Nardini.

Still, the companies do have ideas up their sleeves for when it comes time to pitch potential sponsors, said GroupM Entertainment Worldwide CEO Peter Tortorici. Along with the mom audience, targets might include job searchers and young adults. A program aimed at job seekers, said Tortorici, could “cut across a very broad spectrum of age, sex, and — more than demographics — almost psychographics.”

“We’ll try to get brands to look at [the program ideas], buy into them, and if they do, then away they go,” said Tortorici. He added that the advertisers they’ll work with will “understand that it’s not just about telling their story about their brand. It’s about creating experiences for their target consumer.”

WPP-owned GroupM has produced shows for Web and TV that have aired on ABC, Britain’s Channel 5, and CBC in Canada.

Search could also drive some show ideas, according to Nardini, who said some programs could be created to reflect “the zeitgeist” of the current culture. Those ideas might be fueled by search trends, and search could help drive users to the content itself once created.

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