American Advertising Federation 2009: Innovative marketing from "Men in Black" to the iPhone

Geoffrey Precourt
WARC Online

Arguably, Jon Gieselman's most visible contribution to the science of alternative marketing is nearly a decade old-back when "alternative" meant "different" and was the exception rather than the rule. 

As North American brand manager for Ray-Ban Sunglasses, Gieselman created and negotiated produce placement in the movie, "Men in Black." And the rest is alternative-marketing history.

The decade since then has seen Gieselman serve as vp/advertising, public relations, and brand development for the HSN (formerly known as Home Shopping Network) arm of Barry Diller's IAC/InterActiveCorp. and as vp/advertising and publicity for Kmart Corp. during the retailer's return from bankruptcy. 

For the last four years, as DirectTV svp/advertising and public relations, Gieselman has continued to grow his legacy of alternative marketing, most notably with a series of what DirecTV calls a "Fourth Wall brand-tailing" campaign that uses digital technology to help actors re-tell stories from famous films-among them Lloyd from "Back to the Future" and William Shatner from the sixth "Star Trek" movie in 1991.

Click here to watch the Back to the Future TV Commercial
Click here to watch the Star Trek TV Commercial

Alternative is a catch-all term for anything new that goes to the market, Gieselman told an audience at the American Advertising Federation's 2009 Annual Conference in Arlington, VA. 

"In the traditional model, you'd buy TV spots, print ads, outdoor, and maybe do something locally. Defining "alternative' is pretty loose. Essentially, it's all about new ways to reach target demographics. And doing something interesting that's never been done before may be the most effective way of reaching your target group.

"In the case of Ray-Ban, we had a global marketing group developing marketing for all regions all around the world. And it wasn't pulling. In the U.S. market, we did not have anything. The product-placement engine had been around for more than 20 years, with 500 or 600 films and TV shoes a year. We'd never done anything. But we put together a promotion around 'Men in Black' and it was a tough sell to Columbia Tristar. They wanted a big buy behind it. We convinced them that 15,000 (retail outlets) around the U.S. was a powerful choice. And, by definition, that was alternative…. Even though it was more than 10 years ago."

TV still drives DirecTV's marketing and, according to Gieselman, "gets the lion's share of our plan. We're a TV distributor, so that's logical. But, with a national audience, it's the most efficient and innovative way to reach consumers. There's still no better way to make an impression than a TV spot."

Print, he continued, is a "dying medium that can be reinvented with some alternative thinking." 

Specifically, in the last quarter of 2008, DirecTV came online with 85 new high-definition channels. "We bought out the October 15 Wall Street Journal" and two days later, made the same kind of pre-emptive buy in USA Today. "It was pretty traditional, Gieselman allowed. "But still it was innovative and breakthrough." 

As was DirecTV's decision to become the exclusive advertiser in Sports Illustrated's end-of-year "Pictures of the Year" issue: "We target sports guys. If you watch sports, you're crazy if you don't have direct TV. We worked with photo editors at SI on campaigns and we all loved the creative. It also had some PR legs and the residual effect that you get with that kind of idea.

"Print's not dead. If you do it right."

But alternative media still are a viable option for the satellite service and, said Gieselman, 

"We ask for ideas and we get them. Sometimes we get 50 bad ideas a day. But it's not anyone's fault. An idea has (to be grounded) in a fundamental understanding of the brand, the marketplace, and where the brand fits in. It has to be consistent with everything else we're doing. One idea alone can't move the needle; it has to be additive. We have to be able to execute on the idea. Something might sound good on paper, but if you scratch beneath the surface, it's half-baked."

One fully baked idea that Direct TV will bring to consumers is an integrated application with the iPhone that will bring the satellite service provider's "Sunday Ticket"-the full slate of National Football Game telecasts-to mobile devices. 

"Our target audience-men between the ages of 35 and 54-is a little broad. But we stretched outside the traditional demographic on this and will reach out to a slightly younger one. But we're still on target with a higher-income, educated (audience)."

DirecTV already has some experience with the iPhone platform, offering subscribers an application that allows subscribers to tap into their home TVs remotely and program events on their DVRs. 

"When we go to market," Gieselman continued, "we don't simply invest in TV, print and online. We invest in ideas that constantly tell a bigger story. We take our TV dollars and put them into a public-relations idea. We take our print dollars and put them into a great event. And we keep asking ourselves, 'Will it break through?' 'Does it have a chance?'

"When we're on, we're on. When we're off, we're off. Big, bold rash things that have a chance of breaking through do so because people are inundated with so many messages. But you have to decide: Are you going to do it or not?"

DirecTV, he said, realized $6 million in "press value" for what started as a modest investment in a pre-Super Bowl celebrity flag football game (a low-stress variation on tackle football where the object is not to knock an opponent over, put to simply swipe a tag from his waist.) 

"It was an interesting model. When we do events, we ask, 'Can it be televised?' 'Can it generate press and media exposure?' 'Is it something our sales people can get behind?' I've never been a big believer in an event if it can't reach a lot of consumers. If we can telecast it to a lot of our consumers, it's a home run."

In attendance at Gieselman's presentation were a number of students who are part of an extensive educational program that's part of the AAF mission. In fact, for 225 college chapters, the AAF provides some 7,500 advertising students with case studies and recruitment programs. Unlike the Association of National Advertisers or the 4A's (until recently, more commonly known as the American Association of Advertising Agencies), the AAF relies on membership support from both sides of the marketing equation as well as the educational community.

So, it was entirely appropriate that Gieselman stepped back from the specifics of his own marketing history and addressed some larger issues: "Surround yourself with people who can do what you can't do, who'll push back when they don't agree," he counseled. "A team that tells you what you want to hear is not good."

Gieselman also advised, "There's the perception in marketing organizations that you have to constantly reinvent yourself, your marketing plan, and that you have to do it every year, every month. But you don't need to innovate for the sake of innovation. If it's a bad idea, it's not going to help. It might impress your boss, but we evaluate marketing spend not on analysis but on call volume. If the phone's ringing, the creative people have done their job. 

"Don't put stock in third-party analysis. Look at your own sales figures. Sales is marketing. And marketing is sales. Listen to what your sales people have to say. They're on the street. They're closer to the consumer than you are in an ivory tower."