I have worked with a lot of people over my thirty years in the advertising industry. But few who took what they learned in the business and turned it into a more interesting space than executive producer Matt Rotondo (we’re both Wieden and Kennedy alumni). Matt recently produced a documentary on “Superpower Dogs” which introduced relevant branding into the content without disrupting it in any way. More interestingly, you won’t find this movie in theaters but in science museums.
Matt was kind enough to answer a series of questions I asked him via email. He shared his experience with the film but also his perspective on the future of brand sponsorships in the content space.
Will Burns: First, give us a quick rundown of what you’re doing.
Mast Rotondo: My journey is advertising. But when Tivo came along and people, when given the choice, chose to skip the job I was working on producing, I re-evaluated my career.
I recently spent a decade at Creative Artists Agency (CAA), a global entertainment company, where I helped brands work with, support and create popular culture, on the lack of interrupt this. This type of work is highly entrepreneurial: you learn a lot of things that develop in the culture and imagine how a brand can bring value to a project, and the project brings value to an audience and the value comes back to the Mark.
These days I work with a number of agencies and brands, helping them find opportunities in the quicksand of marketing, media and attention.
Burns: You recently wrote a provocative post on LinkedIn titled âImagine the World Without Adsâ. Do you think the ads really go away?
Rotondo: I don’t think the ads go away. But there are more places that attract large audiences that don’t take advertising.
It was first HBO. Exceptional programming. A growing audience. No ads. It was just a channel – you can accept that you can’t advertise there.
Then Netflix. No ads, too bad, but ok.
Now Apple TV + and Disney +â¦ all of a sudden there are a lot of places where a lot of people are spending a lot of timeâ¦ so, that makes you think – if I can’t cut these audiences off, is it possible to reach them. I think it is.
Burns: You advise brands to surround content with their presence rather than disrupting that same content with advertising. Can you explain what you mean by this?
Rotondo: My premise is rather than interrupting content to reach audiences, give people more content than they like.
This is not to suggest more marketing stuff created in a vacuum. This is to suggest a collaboration with the content creators and to embark on creating more stories from the shows they watchâ¦ stories, stories that didn’t make the cut of the 13-episode order on Netflix, spinoff storiesâ¦ from my time at CAA I learned – there are always more stories a creator wishes they could tell.
I think podcasts and audio make it easy and cost-effective for brands to create more compelling and complementary content. I think brands can play a role here by working with designers.
Burns: You have just produced the documentary “Super powerful dogs. “Tell us how this concept came about.
Rotondo: I was approached by the producers – Cosmic Picture – to help increase the balance of the production budget for a science documentary on dogs that fight crime and save lives. I loved it for these reasons:
- It’s a scientific paper crafted around a cultural insight (which you don’t see often): Audiences love superhero movies which are fake characters in pantyhose with fake superpowers. But dogs can see better, hear better, smell better and when these advanced senses are trainedâ¦ they fight crime and save lives. Dogs are our real superheroes and their real life stories are amazing.
- My father is a veterinarian. I’ve always marveled at how people carry so many positive emotions for their pets, but no brand has ever telegraphed a shared heart … why isn’t there a great pet brand of company ?
- I’ve always wanted to be a producer, but never had the chanceâ¦ until now.
- The environment in which Superpower Dogs now operates – museums and science centers – are incredible iconic institutions, providing remarkable opportunities for the brand partner to activate. I had never seen anything like it.
Author’s Note: Here is the trailer for the film:
Burns: How did you approach the brands to participate in Superpower Dogs? And what was their reaction?
Rotondo: To me, this seemed like a no-brainer for a pet brand to support. I was shocked at how traditional and boring the pet category remains to this day. The first thing I had to overcome was being fired for another film partnership. This is different for MANY reasons:
- It is located in iconic community centers, science museums.
- These centers will allow a brand to do things that no Cineplex would let a brand doâ¦ as long as it adds value to the storytelling.
- These films last 3-5-10 yearsâ¦ (compared to 3-5-10 weeks for a typical film).
- There are so many ways to bring the platform to life.
I was just tenacious trying to find my way to: 1. Anyone in any pet business 2. Anyone in a family friendly business (Pets are a big theme).
Burns: If a sponsor brand cannot be part of the actual content, in what ways can it still benefit?
Rotondo: Let’s start with the point you like to make in your Forbes column about the power of a brand idea. Mars Petcare has agreed to become the main sponsor of Superpower Dogs. Their brand idea is âA Better World for Petsâ.
The filmmakers were (are) so emotionally invested in the film’s goal – to educate the best generation of dog owners through the film, because audiences will learn how special each dog is. Mars Petcare knew we had the same goal.
They also knew the movie had to do its job of telling the story. Together, we identified ways around the film to allow Mars Petcare to tell theirs.
- They open the film with a message explaining WHY this film is important to them and aligns with their corporate social responsibility (CSR) mission.
- The museum offered opportunities to extend storytelling in the place itself, thus promoting learning.
- 40% of audiences are on classroom field trips, and these films come with learning guides that the sponsor can co-create.
- Each location has its own âpremiere,â which is a community celebration of the filmâ¦ so there is a very popular opportunity (with Mars, we broke a Guinness Record for the largest gathering of dogs and owners).
- Mars Petcare funded additional stories that we couldn’t fit into the movie. These live on our Youtube channel.
- Very importantly, beyond Mars Petcare’s corporate messaging, five distinct brands owned by Mars had their own campaigns and activities.
They do a LOT.
Burns: You don’t often hear brands âmarketingâ in museums. How does he telegraph authenticity?
Rotondo: Historically, the brands of these institutions have stuck a logo and an advertisement at the beginning of the content. Today, brands are so much more invested, informed and legitimate in the work they do that can contribute to these learning centers.
I am very excited about what is possible with this white space because everyone wins:
- These museums benefit from compelling science content and exhibits, as well as the outreach that marketers can bring.
- The quality of content increases when it is in the hands of creators who understand that medium.
- And the brands, which despite all their excellent CSR work, sometimes struggle to prove legitimacy, their stature rises by living in these respected institutions.
Overall, I’m excited about all of these possibilities with brands – for social good and just to tell a good story.
AUTHOR’S POSTSCRIPT: The movie “Superpower Dogs” just won Best Picture, Best Music, Best VFX and Best Marketing awards in the Giant Screen Cinema Association last week.