Brands Can Make Hollywood-Level Entertainment Thanks to Jae Goodman

It all seemed to happen in a flash for Observatory CEO Jae Goodman. First, on June 9, Apple TV+ announced a multi-year deal with Nike’s Waffle Iron Entertainment (WHO) to develop and produce sports films. On June 16, wine brand 19 Crimes released a limited-edition Martha Stewart action figure to promote their collaboration. That led to an eight-minute unpaid segment on Today With Hoda & Jenna. On June 23, Doritos hosted an online concert of the Stranger Things brand featuring Soft Cell, The Go-Go’s and Charli XCX. And the next day, WHO launched its first podcast, Hustle Rule, narrated by Ted Lasso’s Hannah Waddingham and based on Gwendolyn Oxenham’s best-selling book.

For the past 16 years, this has been Goodman’s mission, and he repeated it to anyone and every brand that would listen: The world’s leading marketers can create content and experiences that engage and engage audiences rather than interrupting and irritating them. , and generate results.

This mantra has taken him from ad agencies like Wieden+Kennedy and former powerhouse Hal Riney to leave for Hollywood in 2006 and join CAA to found the talent agency giant’s internal marketing consultancy. That eventually led to a full-fledged agency called CAA Marketing, which evolved into Observatory in 2017 and gradually won industry and brand awards (including multiple Fast Company Most Innovative Companies awards).

For Goodman, those two weeks in June – which also saw Observatory’s best financial results and multiple Cannes Lions awards for Chipotle’s short animation ‘A Future Begins’ – were a highlight. “Despite being 16 years in the making, I don’t think we’ve ever worked on the platform to make that dissertation perform better than we are today,” he says. “This moment.”

Goodman takes this moment as his chance to find out what’s next. He is stepping down as CEO of Observatory. “Because I saw this moment coming, it really got me thinking about how I want to spend the next 16 years, and what platform I want to be on or create to take this thesis forward from here,” he says. “The hard answer to that is the only way I’ll know if there’s another platform to do that is to step away.”

Pioneering advertising as entertainment

From Red Bull’s action sports film catalog to Pfizer’s documentary on Nat Geo, the idea of ​​branded entertainment is commonplace these days. As media fragmentation has increased over the past year and a half, brands have been forced to diversify the ways they’ve captured our attention.

It is more viable or effective to rely solely on traditional paid media tools such as TV and radio ads. But you know this. What you may not know is how Goodman was among a select few (including my former Ad Age editor Scott Donaton) who saw this coming long before most. If there was a Mount Rushmore of branded entertainment, Goodman would be Washington or Jefferson.

One of Goodman’s first high-profile pieces of evidence was a 2008 eBay campaign featuring a short film called “Force 1 TD,” about a group of friends who went on an adventure to find some very special sneakers for the miniature of their visually impaired. friend. guide horse. Directed by Randy Krallman, it became the first-ever brand-produced film to be accepted at Sundance, illustrating both brands and filmmakers the potential of the right type of partnerships.

During the live screening of the film, Goodman said there was an audible murmur in the room as Krallman thanked eBay. “For all the great filmmakers in that room, eBay marketing manager Micky (Onvural) was the most harassed person, with all these filmmakers wanting to know how the brand was doing and how to get involved,” he recalls.

There was a campaign for Mitchum in 2010 that was launched as a competition to find the “hardest working person in America.” It was a collaboration with the “hardest working deodorant” and challenged people to make short films about their nominees. Revlon-owned Mitchum was in a two-year sales decline and about to be taken off the shelves at Target and Walmart. However, this campaign and the coverage and attention it generated—including an unpaid, unsolicited endorsement from Dirty Jobs star Mike Rowe—changed the fate.

The contestants’ films were turned into a 30-minute documentary that aired on IFC and the Sundance Channel, and the campaign attracted a total of 11 million video views and more than 200 million media impressions. And it got Mitchum back on the shelves.

In 2012, Goodman and Observatory created the award-winning “Back to the Start” animated short for Chipotle, which starred Willie Nelson as Coldplay’s “The Scientist” and was shown in its entirety at the Grammys. The track was made available on iTunes, with proceeds going to the brand’s philanthropic Cultivate Foundation. It won armloads of industry awards; but more importantly, it was a cultural hit, racking up over 300 million media impressions and placing Nelson’s cover at the top of the iTunes Country charts.

Observatory and Chipotle reunited this year for a 10-year follow-up called “A Future Begins,” this time featuring Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves covering Coldplay’s “Fix You.”

“Jae’s idea of ​​branded entertainment, and his belief to never interrupt an audience but to attract and engage with them, has helped brands like Chipotle successfully educate fans about their targeted initiatives,” says Chipotle CMO Chris Brandt. “While Jae did this in collaboration with Chipotle in 2011, it has never been more relevant than it is now.”

Micky Onvural, who is now chief marketing officer at TIAA, has worked with Goodman for years, on eBay’s aforementioned short film, and on Bonobos #EvolveTheDefinition campaign that won YouTube’s “Ad of the Year” in 2018, although it actually counts as a side was made project to record the ads.

The brand had dozens of men in to shoot a clothing campaign when Goodman and his team suggested placing a camera in another room and asking these men about their definition of masculinity. The result was a gripping look at a real, topical cultural conversation that garnered more than 10 million views online within the first 24 hours.

Onvural says Goodman was ahead of his time. “We first worked together when I was at eBay in 2006, and he was already advocating this idea of ​​creating actual content, not advertising, that people lean towards and make brands culturally relevant,” she says. “When I look back on the work we’ve done together . . . it really stands the test of time.”

This is not a pension

To be clear, this isn’t an obituary or some sort of retirement throwback, but rather context as to why Goodman’s move away from the incredibly healthy agency he’s built is worth considering. When someone who predicted the future decides to give it another try, one had better watch out. Linda Knight, chief creative officer at Observatory, says Goodman will still work with the agency as a consultant, but Observatory is firing on all cylinders.

“He built this incredibly strong team that knows how to do what he wanted to do,” Knight said. “He saw around the corner. He had a vision many years ago and knew where this industry was going — more content-oriented campaigns — and he built this team and company around that idea.”

Since he said he’s stepping back to get a better idea of ​​where this branded entertainment idea might go, I asked Goodman how he’s advising brands on content now, in 2022. The answer, which will be hard to swallow for many marketers, is patience.

“If you’re used to paying for eyeballs and getting make-goods when the TV show doesn’t deliver, or paying for engagement and performance, you can’t expect that kind of direct and direct attribution in this kind of top funnel activity,” he says. he.

At his Cannes Lions conference session in June called “Are Doing Brand Entertainment All Wrong?” one participant asked Goodman about its effectiveness. In the back was Nike CMO Dirk-Jan “DJ” van Hameren, who took the floor and repeated this call for patience, pointing out that Nike had spent three and a half years creating Waffle Iron Entertainment, but the public is only now seeing its first projects come into the world.

With patience comes the reward, as Nike sees with its WHO projects and deals, and as Bonobos saw with #EvolveTheDefinition, which Onvural says is still the best ad refund campaign in the company’s history.

For Goodman, as brand entertainment experts say, he is now a free agent of the Hall of Fame. “What I know is that I will be in a position to work with Observatory. I’m not going to compete with Observatory,” he says. “I see myself in a production role, where I can go deeper into individual productions together with brand customers.”

In other words, back to the beginning.

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