Monday, August 30, 2010

Alloy Digital and KMART launch Branded Entertainment show First Day

Madison+Vine: Digital Entertainment

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Alloy Media & Marketing

Teen-Centric Company Behind 'Gossip Girls' Partners With Kmart for the Launch of 'First Day'

by Andrew Hampp
Published: August 30, 2010

Madison & Vine, Ad Age's original cross-section of the New York ad community and Hollywood, will be taking a broad look over the next year at the key players, projects and platforms in the digital branded-entertainment arena. Check in with M&V as we keep tabs on established players; check in with the media agencies and marketing firms that continue to staff up their branded-content divisions; or profile the newest studios and media companies entering the space.

The Player: Alloy Media & Marketing
Location: Los Angeles and New York
Key Execs: Matt Diamond, CEO, Alloy Media & Marketing; Sean Horvath, exec VP-branded entertainment, Alloy Media & Marketing; Josh Bank, president, Alloy Entertainment, East Coast

'Haute and Bothered'
'Haute and Bothered'
--> Key Projects: "First Day," a branded web series for Kmart that launches Aug. 31; "Haute & Bothered," a scripted web series sponsored by LG Mobile; "Private," a web series based on the Kate Brian novels; upcoming web series "Talent" and "Hollywood Is Like High School With Money"; Alloy Entertainment's CW series "Gossip Girl" and "The Vampire Diaries" and their respective book series; and the ABC Family drama "Pretty Little Liars" and its accompanying book series.

The Background: For more than a decade, few media companies have shaped the way tweens and teens consume franchise properties quite like Alloy Media. Since the 2005 release of Alloy Entertainment's movie adaptation of Alloy's hit young-adult novel series "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" and the 2007 premiere of "Gossip Girl," based on the books by Cecil von Ziegesar, the company has accomplished a cross-platform pop-cultural relevance other publishing houses could only dream of achieving.

Next Steps: Whether fans tune in to the televised versions of their favorite books on TV, discover the books by following the TV series or films, talk about characters and storylines on Alloy's network of websites (ranked No. 1 among teens in June by ComScore, with 16.8 million unique visitors) or tune in to in-school network Channel One in more than 8,000 schools nationwide, Alloy has quietly become the new arbiter for teen-entertainment trends. It's a distinction recently noticed by ZelnickMedia and Chairman Gerry Laybourne (founder of Nickelodeon and Oxygen), which acquired Alloy in June for $126.5 million.

Now Alloy is turning to the web as its latest development vehicle, bringing brands along for the ride. In 2009 it launched "Private," a web series sponsored by Johnson & Johnson based on an Alloy's private-school mystery novels, and "Haute & Bothered," an original scripted series sponsored by LG Mobile. This week, Alloy debuts "First Day," its first wholly original series for the web and a branded-entertainment vehicle for Kmart, which will use the program to promote three of its back-to-school product lines: Bongo, Rebecca Bon Bon and Dream Out Loud (the latter from Disney Channel star Selena Gomez).

Josh Bank, Alloy Entertainment's East Coast president, saw "First Day" as a creative challenge to build a series' concept around Kmart's brand brief. The eight-episode series follows main character Cassie (Tracey Fairaway) as she's forced to relive her first day of high school over again, "Groundhog Day" style.

"We wondered, 'How could we showcase three different clothing lines?' A girl living the same day over and over again in different ways seemed like the best way to do that," Mr. Bank said.

Although Kmart and its products are never addressed by name in "First Day," each episode will be supported by display and video pre-roll video ads highlighting the participating retail lines, with links to Kmart's own micro-sites to purchase the products seen in the series. "First Day" will also receive heavy promotion via click-to-expand video ad units from Alloy properties such as, and, and exclusive web partnerships with, Candystand and Fanpop among others. Kmart's media agency, MPG, and digital agency, Digitas, helped broker the deal and create the media plan with Alloy.

'First Day'

'First Day'

--> Mark Snyder, Kmart's chief marketing officer, saw a compelling case to be made for the integrated marketing of his retailer's clothes.

"A lot of these kids didn't grow up with Kmart the same way the boomer generation did. It didn't have the fashion credibility Kmart does now, so including it in the storyline felt very relevant to their day to day," he said. "Alloy is an expert on this particular segment and we knew they could deliver the audience we were looking to reach."

And as the teen segment in particular develops more fickle media habits, Mr. Snyder and his marketing team will evaluate the relative value of "First Day" compared to its other media buys later this year. Like Kraft, Procter & Gamble and even Poise incontinence pads have learned before him, original web series can sometimes be tied directly to positive sales results.

"It's hard to say if a 30-second TV spot is more valuable than a 15-minute webisode with incredible integration of product, so we'll have a lot of information to figure out about our targets," he said.

For Alloy, the business model for creating digital entertainment can be break-even if not profitable from the get-go by recruiting brands such as Kmart to underwrite the production costs of the series. But to the viewers, the show has to look as good if not better than a TV series, or they'll have no incentive to tune in.

"We're kind of under the belief that there has to be a variety of ways to deliver a unique experience, so that when you're distributing a show you make sure that views are enabled and interacted with at the highest quality," said Sean Horvath, Alloy Media's exec VP-branded entertainment. "The process is no different than how we would develop something for TV or film, and utilize a lot of the same people we've worked with in the past."

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Good article about our latest branded entertainment campaign for Alloy Digital and Kmart - launching this week.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

How retweeting and liking dumbs down the conversation on blogs

I've noticed on a bunch of blogs that I read that the comment sections are getting increasingly getting spammed by retweets, likes and a few google buzzes. It appears that 95% of "comments" (see example here: are in fact simply people re-sharing the orginial content produced on the blog; on sites like the ratio is often close to 100% re-sharing vs. original commentary. On the one hand, this is in line with stats stating that 90% of readers only consume but never create content, on the other hand I wonder what the purpose of all the retweeting/ liking/ buzzing really is if no value/ information/ insight is added to the original content. My suggestion for publishers would at least be to follow the techcrunch example and exclude re-sharing from the true comment section so they don't crowd out original insights.


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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Urban Golf in Fribourg, Switzerland

I came across this in Die Zeit the other day - Fribourg in Switzerland Has put together an urban golf course that lets you explore the city while hitting a soft ball around. At only CHF 9 it's a bargain compared to regular green fees and it looks like a creative, fun way to explore the city.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Name cruelty: Eataly by Mario Batali about to open


Think Whole Foods meets Bloomingdale's, put an Italian spin on it, and you get a sense of the look and feel of Eataly, the gastronomical monster of a marketplace unveiled Tuesday night for its first preview. The 42,500-square-foot market, located in the Flatiron district, will open to the general public on Aug. 31.

Eataly is the baby of Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and his mother, Lidia, of the Batali-Bastianich Hospitality Group. It is modeled after the original Eataly, which was founded by Oscar Farinetti in Turin, Italy.

Flourishes from that country abound at the new market, from an Italian bank ATM to dual-language signs to iPads displaying news from Italian newspapers.

Daniella Zalcman for The Wall Street Journal

Mario Batali, right, at the preview of Eataly on Tuesday.



The New York location houses seven restaurants featuring everything from salumi and hand-made mozzarella to a raw bar and Neapolitan-style pizza baked in two ovens imported from Italy. Only one of the restaurants—Il Manzo—has white tablecloths and will take reservations (and also happens to serve carne crudo, or raw beef, a favorite in Italy).

The other restaurants are incorporated into the retail sections, which serves as the heart of the market. One of the most anticipated elements—the 4,500-square-foot rooftop beer garden—won't open until November. Beers will be made unfiltered and unpasteurized, naturally carbonated and hand-pulled through traditional beer engines.

"This isn't a selection of restaurants under one roof," Mr. Batali said. "This is a retail store where we peddle the greatest of Italian gastronomy to people who want to eat it and know how to appreciate it. You ask any Italian and all of the smart Americans where the best meal they ever had in the last ten years was, and it was never in someone's restaurant. It was always in the house."

Still, Mr. Batali and company have brought much of the star power to Eataly from their existing restaurants. David Pasternack, the chef at Esca, will oversee the seafood restaurant; Nancy Silverton, of Mr. Batali's California restaurants, is heading up the bread baking; and Michael Toscano, formerly of Babbo, is the chef at Il Manzo (meat).

Some have wondered if there is a need for such a vast retail of Italian foodstuffs. Ihsan Gurdal, the owner of Formaggio Kitchen, which has a tiny gourmet food shop in Essex Market and two larger shops in Massachusetts, questioned the size of Eataly, though he said he was excited to see it. "My motto is less is more. If you start with this huge thing and products have expiration dates, it's a gamble," Mr. Gurdal said. "The size is definitely an issue. I think it's overwhelming."

Others, like Tim Zagat, the co-founder of the Zagat Survey of restaurants, said he believes there is a strong enough demand for Italian products. "We ask people what their favorite food is," he said. "In New York for the last 20 years, Italian food has always come in number one by far. People like to eat Italian food every day."

Write to Sumathi Reddy at

I'm not a huge fan of Batali's very rich Italian food which can only be described as "Americanized Italian"... But if you're into butter and olive oil - definitely worthwhile. Now he adds a new layer of sophistication to his restaurant empire - a "food marketplace" called... Eataly. Let's hope the food is better than the name.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Twitter Movie Trailer:  Rated Awesome

Very funny trailer for the "upcoming" Twitter movie

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My golf outing last week: Silicon Alley Leaders Link Up

For the last few years, Darren Herman, chief digital media officer at the advertising agency Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal Partners, has been organizing a private golfing event in Westchester County for leaders of Silicon Alley. This year, he pulled together a few digital sponsors and, shall we say, upped his game.

Brian Shumway for the Wall Street Journal

Phil Pearlman



"The first one was 12 people," Mr. Herman said. "This year we called it the Silicon Alley Golf Invitational and we opened it up to 40. They're people that I've either done business with, or people that I enjoy spending time with, or the movers and shakers in the Silicon Alley culture. Sometimes we're competitors and that's a good thing, because you know what they say about a rising tide. It lifts all boats."

"I organize everything, including the food, the shirts, the balls and the trophies," Mr. Herman continued. The glass trophies, for instance, came from and were customized with "Best Score," "Worst Score" and "Closest to the Pin." "It's amazing how fast those trophies can turn around," he said.

Brian Shumway for the Wall Street Journal

Jonathan Hsu and Michael Weiksner.



As it turns out, not everyone who participated in the Silicon Alley Golf Invitational is particularly good at the sport. "We have people who can shoot a 65 and people who can shoot a 120," Mr. Herman said, not that the golf-oblivious reporter he made that statement to really knew what he meant. "I've been playing golf for the last 10 years. I'm good enough to play a game, not good enough to win."

On the sunny afternoon of the Invitational at the Centennial Golf Club in Carmel, the event was coming to a close. Most of the golfers had returned from their games, freshened up and were lounging around in their muted Brooks Brothers polo shirts and Vineyard Vines shorts. They were chatting about technology over hamburgers and Arnold Palmers. Some of the fellows there included Nat Turner, the co-founder and CEO of Invite Media, which was recently acquired by Google, Matt Prohaska, the chief of SmartClip, Dan Ballister, the chief strategy officer at Market Maker Interactive and Ari Jacoby, founder and chief executive of AdCopy.

Brian Shumway for the Wall Street Journal

Event organizer Darren Herman.



"If it was all about Facebook and Twitter, then a lot more people would go see Ashton Kutcher's terrible movies," said one digital executive, referring to the discrepancy between the actor's popularity in cyberspace versus his lack thereof in movie theaters.

At the next table, Jonathan Hsu, the former CEO of 24/7 Real Media who is now CEO of RecycleBank was describing why golf is popular with technology executives. "It's a good time to spend one-on-one, with, say, the chief marketing officer of Coke," Mr. Hsu explained. "If you can spend 4½ hours with the guy, you learn about whether you can stand the client and the client can stand you. If they quit after nine holes you're in trouble."

Brian Shumway for the Wall Street Journal

Nat Turner with Christian Busch and Phil Pearlman.



"I cover all these guys and my job is to get to know their businesses," said Mark Roszkowski of Portico Capital. "I wouldn't say I'm great at golf, but I'm pretty good."

Phin Barnes, a principal at First Round Capital, sat the game out because of a shoulder injury. "I made sure no one cheated in the 'Closest to the Pin' competition," Mr. Barnes said. "I'm a far better caddy than a golfer. The golf is really secondary. The conversation is the value, not the course. Poker is better anyway. Poker is like start-up golf."

At this point, Jonathan Steinberg, the president of Buzzfeed, joined the conversation. "Poker is way better than golf," Mr. Steinberg said. "I can practice poker on my iPhone on the train home from work. I didn't come here for the golf. I don't play golf. I like Darren and all the other folks here, and I like food."

Corrections & Amplifications:
In an earlier version of this article, a caption on a photo of Jonathan Hsu and Michael Weiksner incorrectly said the photo depicted Jonathan Hsu and Mark Roszkowski.

Write to Marshall Heyman at

Fun event last week - thanks to Darren Herman for organizing.

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Sunday, August 08, 2010

Happiness comes from experiences more so than goods

A two-bedroom apartment. Two cars. Enough wedding china to serve two dozen people.

Yet Tammy Strobel wasn’t happy. Working as a project manager with an investment management firm in Davis, Calif., and making about $40,000 a year, she was, as she put it, caught in the “work-spend treadmill.”

So one day she stepped off.

Inspired by books and blog entries about living simply, Ms. Strobel and her husband, Logan Smith, both 31, began donating some of their belongings to charity. As the months passed, out went stacks of sweaters, shoes, books, pots and pans, even the television after a trial separation during which it was relegated to a closet. Eventually, they got rid of their cars, too. Emboldened by a Web site that challenges consumers to live with just 100 personal items, Ms. Strobel winnowed down her wardrobe and toiletries to precisely that number.

Her mother called her crazy.

Today, three years after Ms. Strobel and Mr. Smith began downsizing, they live in Portland, Ore., in a spare, 400-square-foot studio with a nice-sized kitchen. Mr. Smith is completing a doctorate in physiology; Ms. Strobel happily works from home as a Web designer and freelance writer. She owns four plates, three pairs of shoes and two pots. With Mr. Smith in his final weeks of school, Ms. Strobel’s income of about $24,000 a year covers their bills. They are still car-free but have bikes. One other thing they no longer have: $30,000 of debt.

Ms. Strobel’s mother is impressed. Now the couple have money to travel and to contribute to the education funds of nieces and nephews. And because their debt is paid off, Ms. Strobel works fewer hours, giving her time to be outdoors, and to volunteer, which she does about four hours a week for a nonprofit outreach program called Living Yoga.

“The idea that you need to go bigger to be happy is false,” she says. “I really believe that the acquisition of material goods doesn’t bring about happiness.”

While Ms. Strobel and her husband overhauled their spending habits before the recession, legions of other consumers have since had to reconsider their own lifestyles, bringing a major shift in the nation’s consumption patterns.

“We’re moving from a conspicuous consumption — which is ‘buy without regard’ — to a calculated consumption,” says Marshal Cohen, an analyst at the NPD Group, the retailing research and consulting firm.

Amid weak job and housing markets, consumers are saving more and spending less than they have in decades, and industry professionals expect that trend to continue. Consumers saved 6.4 percent of their after-tax income in June, according to a new government report. Before the recession, the rate was 1 to 2 percent for many years. In June, consumer spending and personal incomes were essentially flat compared with May, suggesting that the American economy, as dependent as it is on shoppers opening their wallets and purses, isn’t likely to rebound anytime soon.

On the bright side, the practices that consumers have adopted in response to the economic crisis ultimately could — as a raft of new research suggests — make them happier. New studies of consumption and happiness show, for instance, that people are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material objects, when they relish what they plan to buy long before they buy it, and when they stop trying to outdo the Joneses.

If consumers end up sticking with their newfound spending habits, some tactics that retailers and marketers began deploying during the recession could become lasting business strategies. Among those strategies are proffering merchandise that makes being at home more entertaining and trying to make consumers feel special by giving them access to exclusive events and more personal customer service.

While the current round of stinginess may simply be a response to the economic downturn, some analysts say consumers may also be permanently adjusting their spending based on what they’ve discovered about what truly makes them happy or fulfilled.

“This actually is a topic that hasn’t been researched very much until recently,” says Elizabeth W. Dunn, an associate professor in the psychology department at the University of British Columbia, who is at the forefront of research on consumption and happiness. “There’s massive literature on income and happiness. It’s amazing how little there is on how to spend your money.”

CONSPICUOUS consumption has been an object of fascination going back at least as far as 1899, when the economist Thorstein Veblen published “The Theory of the Leisure Class,” a book that analyzed, in part, how people spent their money in order to demonstrate their social status.

Good article about the shift towards experiences as opposed to buying goods and how we enjoy experiences more than goods. The example of reducing your belongings to 100 seems a bit extreme but the overall idea is sound.

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