Joe Pollard: Branded content bigger than Lance, risks lower

Publicis Mojo chief executive Joe Pollard has said she would still align an athlete to a brand despite the Lance Armstrong fallout. The former Nike director and Ninemsn supremo told AdNews that the new markets and revenue models spawned by her first Armstrong documentary outweighed the downside.

Pollard pioneered branded content with The Road to Paris, an hour-long Armstrong documentary funded by Nike in 2001. Back then she was Nike’s global director of media, digital and content. That first year, Nike signed off US$1.5 million to prove the concept.

“My pitch was ‘the worst case is we lose the lot, but if it all goes well, we make money’,” Pollard said. But all of her branded content projects “broke even or made money”.

Yet 12 years on, it turns out that the concept’s legendary founding focus was a myth. While “disappointed Lance’s amazing story” turned out to be false, Pollard is sanguine – there were other big successes.

She is most proud of the Nike-funded Battlegrounds, which first aired on MTV in 2003. The competition format threw street basketballers from major US cities into battle to be crowned the king of the court.

“The stories behind the kids were amazing. They made it to the NBA instead of a life of gangs and drugs,” she said, pointing out that ‘back stories’ are now a standard sticky tool in reality TV formats.

Packaging street culture, music, fashion and sport, ratings were massive. Hip-hop stars wrote hits for the show. Later series expanded to European capital cities.

Naturally, there were also lots of Nike Air trainers on show. Pollard stressed that a natural fit is key to successful branded content. “The minute you think ‘how do I insert product here’, you fail,” she said. “It has to be natural, inspirational and informative. And the networks were very supportive of that.”

The revenue models developed between the brand and the networks would outlive the Armstrong fallout, according to Pollard.

For those early projects, Nike took the production risk and could then either share advertising revenue or, by retaining distribution rights, make money from tertiary distribution. In the days before YouTube, Battlegrounds sold a lot of DVDs.

YouTube and social media channels broaden the opportunity, according to Pollard. “You can chop up the stories in many more ways, there are more networks and there is more value. The risks are much higher and the rewards much lower,” she said.

“[Whereas in 2001] you had to put up the money, shoot it, negotiate distribution, now you just have to focus on entertaining content. That does the rest and clients reap the rewards.”


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This article first appeared in the 08 February 2013 edition of AdNews, in print and on iPad. Click here to subscribe for more news, features and opinion.

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