While agencies have long devised cross-selling opportunities for clients, the notion of integrated marketing communications really came into its own in the mid-1980s.

Back then Digital Equipment Corporation, for example, gathered representatives from its four major communications agencies in Stratford-on-Avon, England for a week and demanded they work together to create a single visual and message platform for the company that could be placed world-wide.

Two decades of business consolidation and big thinking followed, and the industry's idea of what integrated means has evolved accordingly. Sponsors have gone from making sure their can of Coke rather than a competitive can of Pepsi appeared as an on-screen prop, to BMW making its own films. Product placement has become “Advertainment.”

public relations has been no less affected. Reviews created for, let's say PharmaX, are generated by supposedly independent companies that turn out to be owned by the agency that's handling the advertising for PharmaX. No surprise when the same positive PR ends up as the content in PharmaX's new ad campaign. Take two of these, and wag the dog in the morning.

More products are, in fact, wagging more programming.

To take a state-of-the-art look at the contemporary relationship between media and marketing, consider MTV. This enormously profitable arm of the VIACOM Empire has achieved a level of communications integration only dreamed about by most brand managers.

Here's how it works:

MTV hosts an event. It might be a concert, or rave, or beach bash. It invites the station's primary advertisers and others to join in as event sponsors. These sponsors are free to mention their participation in their own marketing, and MTV promotes them as well in its promotional efforts. At the event itself, the sponsors' wares—shoes, hats, bags, t-shirts, musical instruments, records, CDs, whatever—are handed out, sold and/or raffled off.

It gets more interesting.

MTV covers the event as part of its own programming schedule. Kids attracted to the event are wearing the sponsors' branded shorts and shoes and hats so these brands get additional coverage as the event itself unfolds.

Afterwards, MTV produces and broadcasts the event, again promoting it and giving event sponsors surrounding airtime. The kids—now part of the show content—become an enthusiastic, grass-roots audience spreading the word, and creating loyalty for the participating sponsors' products. Not just on the air, but also on the web and in person.


You bet. Efficient. Cost effective. Controllable. And measurable, too.

The distinctions between show content and show sponsor, between participant and audience have disappeared. The kids have become the advertisers, the consumers, the program and the audience.

Most companies would be pleased to occasionally make their products a temporary part of their customer's lives. MTV has raised the ante—making the stuff of peoples' lives its own reason for being. MTV has gone from being a network of programs to being a reality conveyance for its audience.

Later this spring they're going to do it again. In a deal with Roxy surf wear, HarperCollins publishers and Quiksilver productions, MTV will broadcast a series called “Surf Girls,” in which girls surf exotic places for the chance to win a spot in a Roxy-sponsored contest.

Roxy used its own customer and website databases to invite surfers to a casting call for the show. Real customers, not actors (well, maybe some would-be actors) will perform. Naturally everyone will be sporting Roxy clothing in the show.

Coincidently, HarperCollins will introduce “Luna Bay,” subtitled, “A Roxy Girl Series.” Presumably these books will make good reading at the beach. The idea is not merely product placement. The idea is to embed a brand so firmly within the dramatic narrative that it seems natural, goes almost unnoticed.

The theory here is that advertising, per se, just doesn't work with media-savvy teens anymore. This generation has grown up expecting everything to be sponsored, so why interrupt the story to say so? These are kids, after all, who are paying their way through school by displaying logos tattooed on their foreheads. The have been walking ads ever since the first clothing logo appeared on the outside of their mothers' clothes decades ago.

The lesson seems clear: if you want to get their attention you don't have to hit them over the head.

Historically in the ad business it's been might builds market share. Buy more media, make more noise, bury your competition.

On MTV, integration is playing a new tune.

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Richard Roberts is a MARCOM consultant, copywriter and college professor in Boston. Visit RERoberts.com, or email: Richard@RERoberts.com