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Brian J Terkelsen

President | 22 Apr 2011

I am still not wholly convinced that the state of branded content in India does not give results. We have seen tremendous opportunities in cinema. Television would remain important... there is major room for growth in how we handle television and messaging innovation in television. Now, it is not so much about putting a brand in a show – it is simple product placement. It is more about integrating it with the show or even better, working with the content creator to create content for the brand, to create content that the brand would own and would traffic in commercial times. It is powerful for the show, for the brand to have that affinity to raise favourability – those metrics still work.

Branded content has seen many forms in India so far - in-programme product placement, brand integration, advertiser funded programming and so on. While some interesting work is seen in the film industry, there is nothing path breaking seen on television yet.

LiquidThread is a structured step from Starcom MediaVest Group to make a difference in this very space. Starcom MediaVest Group had merged three content units -- Connectivetissue, Starcom Entertainment and Pixel – to form Liquid Thread. SMG has already taken some key steps to bring LiquidThread to India.

Earlier this month, LiquidThread's President and President, Brian J Terkelsen spent time with the India team on what the company's road ahead should be.

In conversation with Noor Fathima Warsia, Terkelsen speaks at length about the content practice space in India and what one can expect.

Q. LiquidThread is the combination of three units, including Starcom Entertainment. Why was there a need to do something like that?

It is important to understand that though LiquidThread is a new business, it is not a new practice. It is the evolution of our content practice that we have had in North America for over 15 years now. We have content practice inside of SMG and that becomes LiquidThread, which will be the evolution of how we approach content. The reason and the opportunity to do it now is directly related to the importance of digital, and the role that social must and can play at the centre of all content experiences.

Q. What are some things we can expect from you in India right now?

The first thing really is grow this client group that understands the role of content practice in their brand’s communication. Over time, as we begin to work with more of our clients, and as we begin to move them into innovation-in-content mindset and we begin to move the digital mindset around content and content experiences, we will grow this group. There is no question we will have to grow this group. The other opportunity for us is to work with our existing clients as well as our multinational clients and move them. I do a lot of work around the globe with many US-based and non-US based multinational clients – that kind of work will also happen now here in India.

Q. People have been speaking about branded content for years now, but despite all conversations one does not see enough of path-breaking branded entertainment...

There are multiple levels of marketing today, and if a marketer is not endorsing and employing content and content experiences, with digital and social at its core, you are not preparing yourself for what will become your everyday work. Today, it is very television centric and it is important we don’t forget about television. Mass and exposure matter, as does raising brands’ favourability. Brands today think they need to get their messages out there, but smart brands are saying I need to get a connection with my consumers. How do I get that connection and value that connection in a way that is different from cost per thousand? That is one step of innovation. The next step is to understand digital is not for display only -- it is not just a broadcast medium. It is a two-way medium. It means I can engage in an experience that I can share with my consumer. That means I can give them something and I have to be able to listen to what they are saying to that and then respond to it. It is a simple conversation, but it is new. So when someone says, we have to go digital and I am building my digital agency and I am building my digital practice, but if they believe it is about buying a human resource that can play a display ad on a Yahoo! or MSN, they are not understanding what digital is.

Q. You segregate social from digital...

Yes, I do.

Q. But isn’t social a part of digital itself?

As a very sophisticated marketer, I would have to agree with you. But right now, it is worth bifurcating the two and saying some can just be digital and some exercises can be social, where I have to listen. Some can be just a one-way conversation, where the client puts out a message and as soon as he has a response, the conversation could be ended. On the other hand, social continues the conversation.

Q. Is social today just Facebook and Twitter?

Today, for many it is, but we think it is more than that. For those brands that have adopted a social-engineered insight in their mentality, LiquidThread is the voice that can take it forward. For example, in the US, we populate the dialogue for Hornitos Tequila and it is a fun brand doing a lot of fun things, but it can only remain relevant and fun if we have something to say. This is where social is more than digital. You can just be digital by being in that space, but if you are going to be social, who is going to handle that for you? If you think social is just Facebook and Twitter, you are really falling short.

Q. Unfortunately, most brands and agencies are using FB as their great example.

We are still in the world where Facebook is the predominant player in social. Facebook is the low end, but it tells me that X-Box brand manager would rather have 100 fans that are working with him and engaging with the brand than one million fans that are not engaged. We have yet to see where social goes by the year-end.

Q. In the case of India, digital is not so high – we are talking 6 per cent penetration and 2 per cent share of the ad pie. In that context, you are left with television. And on that platform, we have not seen anything worth talking about in the last several years even though all such content practice companies have been busy for many years now.

That is where the opportunity is. Television would remain important. And what you just articulated further highlights that there is major room for growth in how we handle television and messaging innovation in television. In North America, we did not give up just because television was very played out for brand integration. In fact, we put more money into it and we invested in new ways to be innovative around content. Now, it is not so much about putting a brand in a show – it is simple product placement. It is more about integrating it with the show or even better, working with the content creator to create content for the brand, to create content that the brand would own and would traffic in commercial times. It is powerful for the show, for the brand to have that affinity to raise favourability – those metrics still work. The most important part is that the consumer gets more of what he wants. And this is something we can see in the Indian marketplace in television alone. I am still not wholly convinced that the state of branded content in India does not give results. We have seen tremendous opportunities in cinema.

Q. Which is fine, but even there we have seen nothing that has got spoken about except for the time when that innovation may have taken place...

I cannot deny that, but I can also tell you that that is why we are launching LiquidThread in India – to change that.

Q. What are some of the things that you are doing to ensure that the LiquidThread team in India is doing some path-breaking work?

We are reaching our next course of work here and are prepared to dig deep now. A few key truths before that -- there are some principles that we need to lay down, not only for own staff but for our clients as well, and they need to believe in this as well. For great work to happen, there are three things to remember. If it is worth doing, it is worth paying for. Innovation must be funded – period. The money has to be spent. And finally, there is no such thing as value-add. When you strike that from your nomenclature, you understand that for a brand to do something different, it is going to cost. Being a client, I need to spend the money, but I need to see returns. And that is alright. Let’s go and peg this to sales. This is something that SMG World is going to do in India.

Q. Do you think clients in India understand that innovations must be funded and the money should be spent?

I have not had those kinds of conversations with clients in India yet, but I can tell you all clients do not want to hear that. Across markets, including North America, we have clients that do not want to believe that. There are clients that are active in the space and they put a percentage of their media dollars on this because they want to learn more, but there are only those many of those clients.

Q. Final question: where do you hope LiquidThread India would be in one year?

Of all marketplaces out there, the Indian market place is where the greatest creative work can happen. This market is unfettered and it has not changed into a structure. Television is the leading platform in this marketplace. Don’t trip over digital and social so much – you will get there. But you have a major platform that has a huge reach. Innovating in television would still be key in India.

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