Jae Goodman, chief creative officer of Creative Artists Agency's marketing arm, knows good storytelling. Campaign has barely begun quizzing him about why he left a job in advertising when he offers a perfect, crystallising anecdote; the kind journalists usually have to draw out with a patter of stilted questioning that can turn the atmosphere a little Stasi-esque.
"The watershed moment for me was when I was sitting at home in San Francisco watching TV and I found myself fast-forwarding through one of my own commercials," Goodman begins.
"Now, I’m not an independently wealthy person and I still have to work for a living. So I thought to myself: ‘This is not a sustainable industry that I’m in.’"
At a time when marketing’s future feels impossible to predict, Goodman has bet his career that brands’ best hope lies in attracting audiences rather than interrupting them.
The watershed moment for me was when I found myself fast-forwarding through one of my own commercials.
In the decade since bringing his creative expertise to CAA’s marketing department, Goodman has been behind, among other things, Chipotle’s Cannes Lions Grand Prix- and Emmy-winning "Cultivate" films, and the first and second brand films (for eBay and Microsoft respectively) to be accepted into the Sundance Film Festival.
Goodman’s fascination with branded content predates his move to Hollywood. In an early role, he learned the value of product placement and the importance of context.
"It comes back to one of my first jobs making ski films for Warren Miller [in 1993]. Every year, we would make a film and brand inclusions would pay for 100% of the production costs," he explains. "We would then make a profit by touring the video and putting on screenings.
"But we would show it in late fall and – I’m quoting Warren here, so please excuse me – he would say it was like showing a porno to sailors who are three days from port."
Goodman carried this fixation with him into his agency career. A fixation with branded content, that is; not with putting on grumble shows for navy folk.
When he was senior vice-president and executive creative director at Publicis & Hal Riney, Goodman would spend hours, usually between midnight and 6am, writing music-video and TV-show ideas, and thinking about how he could get clients into mainstream entertainment.
Incidentally, Goodman prides himself on needing just four hours’ sleep a night – the same as Margaret Thatcher. He has Arianna Huffington’s book about sleep, The Sleep Revolution, sitting on his bookshelf but says he hasn’t got round to reading it yet.
While you may want to consider Goodman’s sleep habits before asking him to operate heavy machinery, there’s no doubt that his persistence and dedication to his craft have paid off professionally.
"One of the biggest breakthroughs for me [at Publicis & Hal Riney] was getting 24 Hour Fitness into the Biggest Loser TV show," he says. "For people losing weight, a gym is a big part of their plans and [the producers] were open to the idea of a brand playing a big role in the show."
Notwithstanding his successes, Goodman encountered too many obstacles not to think that a better way existed outside adland.
"When I was at Publicis & Hal Riney, we had some huge clients, so I assumed we had some leverage with the TV networks," he says. "We wanted to use that leverage to try to do more than just run commercials on TV shows, so we asked to present TV show ideas to the programming side of the networks and to talk to the creators developing the TV shows so we could be smarter about integrating brands. But we were generally told ‘no’ – that brands and their ad agencies only talk to network sales."
The answer for Goodman came from CAA, which was looking to add creative firepower to its marketing department. He already had a relationship with the talent agency because it had helped him sell a TV show called FANdemonium! to Fox Sports.
"I started having conversations with [CAA] about what it would look like," he says. "We could… drive business by operating in culture, not just paid media."
Essentially, Goodman says, CAA is a pop-culture generator where the emphasis is on collaboration: "Our culture is: if we take care of each other, good things will happen.
"We’re paid like an ad agency but the fundamental difference is that we’re focused on platform ideas – ideas that can be executed in many forms of media.
"Also, [before presenting an idea] an agency copywriter will spend a lot of time crafting the script. We would spend more time on the overall platform or franchise idea and not ever present the script to the client."
As an example, Goodman talks about pitching "Fun of fear" to Quilmes, the South American beer brand owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev. CAA convinced the brand that the best way to beat the October sales lull was to let Jason Blum, the producer behind Paranormal Activity, create a "house of horrors" experience that people could visit.
Essentially, Goodman says, CAA is a pop-culture generator where the emphasis is on collaboration: "Our culture is: if we take care of each other, good things will happen".
"We just give initial ideas," he continues. "If the client engages with the idea, then we will approach the expert scriptwriters, or whatever, about the individual executions."
Goodman may have made his proverbial bed with respect to CAA, but does he believe there is a future for traditional advertising agencies?
"Definitely, in terms of the processes for having ingenuity drive business results, and the infrastructure and creative minds that agencies have," he answers. "But what must change is the assumption that the outcome will come in any given media format.
"Media agencies are now driven entirely by efficiency. And now you’ve got things like programmatic buying. It would be really bad if you’ve got the bots creating the media plan and then the greatest creative minds in the world just obeying the bots and filling their order."
And yet Goodman and the rest of CAA make no secret of the fact that they embrace paid media to promote their work for brands. "We believe there’s no such thing as viral," he adds.
Another thing Goodman believes is that CAA offers "a solution to the end of interruptive advertising" – and, on paper at least, the logic is solid.
But, as ever, the difficulty lies in the execution. The millions of hours of barely watched dreck that bloats YouTube is testament to the expertise it takes to skilfully mix brands and entertainment. Why is branded content so hard to get right?
"I can’t tell you the key to failure but I know the key to success," he says. Though more self-deprecating than your typical Hollywood man, Goodman possesses a relentlessly enthusiastic demeanour. Campaign wonders whether he keeps it up throughout his 20-hour waking day.
He goes on: "The key to success is open-mindedness to a new form of collaboration with the greatest minds in entertainment. The clients and the agencies must be willing to listen to people like Blum when he says: ‘This will make audiences love the idea.’"
Fortunately, ad-blocking, online ad fraud and Netflix have all conspired to create an environment that’s forcing more and more clients to listen.
"Fewer people look at us like we’re crazy, so we’ve got that going for us," Goodman responds when asked how the industry has changed over the past decade.
"It really feels like the industry conversation is turning towards what we really believe and what we’ve set CAA up to do. Brands can think like marketers and act like producers. Brands can be further upstream in the content development process. Brands don’t have to wait for content distributors to invest in and produce an idea; they can be part of the process. I would like to think that some of our work at CAA has become a beacon for clients to work like this."
How big branded entertainment becomes a model of marketing depends on many factors, not least whether brands can embrace the slimmer odds of success that producers and studios accept as standard.
Meanwhile, Goodman and his team aim to make that model as attractive an alternative as possible. And there’s no denying that it’s starting to sound like a compelling story.
Goodman’s 5 tips for better content marketing
- KPI: Agree to your goals early and refer to them often.
- ROI: Marketing KPIs matter but business results matter most.
- DDIY (don’t do it yourself): Be open to new collaborators. Whatever you’re creating – TV show, film, music event, podcast or game – work with best-in-class professionals in that form.
- FYI: Agency, clients and collaborators must over-communicate throughout the entire process. Great teams talk to each other – constantly.
- "We, not I": OK, this isn’t an acronym, but it sounds like one. It’s a reminder to share credit. In success, there is plenty to go around.