Looking to expand its offerings to advertisers, Viacom said it agreed to acquire influence marketing company WhoSay.
WhoSay creates campaigns for marketers that use talent ranging from A-list actors to online celebrities to pets in order to deliver messages over social media using data and technology to reach its target and measure its performance.
Viacom and WhoSay say they have worked together on about 50 projects for clients over the past two years, and a decision came together quickly to tie the knot. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
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The move fits with the strategy of Viacom CEO Bob Bakish, who is trying to turn around the youth-oriented media company. Ratings at Viacom’s cable networks including Nickelodeon and MTV have been falling for several years, leading to lower ad revenue and profits and Bakish’s predecessor, Philippe Dauman being dismissed.
As its ratings fell Viacom embraced advanced advertising, with Viacom Vantage using data to target ads, Viacom Velocity to create custom content and helping to found Open AP, which is looking to standardize audience-based ad sales. Under Bakish, Viacom is looking to grow ratings by focusing its resources on its flagship networks and by expanding its ad business beyond selling commercials.
“We really have been positioning Viacom as an overall solutions provider,” said Sean Moran, head of marketing and partner solutions at Viacom.
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Viacom has done a good job of helping clients build social media marketing campaigns around big events, like MTV’s Video Music Awards, Moran said, but what WhoSay brings to the table is “being able to execute on a 52-week basis to develop premium-quality content, turn it around really quickly, have it distributed the right way, have it measurable and, this is a hot topic, have it safe.”
WhoSay worked with Viacom networks to build buzz for the MTV Movie Awards with a campaign featuring millennial actor Keegan Allen and hip hop star Lil’ Yachty. It also drove tune in to the BET Soul Train Awards with a campaign featuring the group African Pride and Destiny’s Child singer Letoya Lucket to look at the evolution of hairstyles.
WhoSay co-founder and CEO Steve Ellis said combining with Viacom will help give the company scale and access to intellectual properties including Viacom’s shows and characters.
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“Brands want scale and solutions. They want measurable outcomes and they want brand safety,” said Ellis.
WhoSay has created over 400 campaigns that have delivered 5 billion impressions and 800 million video views over Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube and through live events.
A WhoSay campaign for Hellman’s featured Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard embarking on “The Great Strangewich Adventure.” To launch Burt’s Bees Beauties, WhoSay partnered with country music singer and actress Jana Kramer to show she shops for natural products that make her feel beautiful at her local Walmart store.
“It’s all about ideas, creativity, driving solutions for brands. This combination I think gives us the ability now to extend that excellence beyond digital and social,” said Ellis.
“We’ve really focused on improving mobile advertising because we think it could be a lot better,” he added, noting that TV advertising could be more effective and less interruptive.
WhoSay has also expanded into shopper marketing, creating campaign materials in-store, close to the point of sale, an area Viacom has been interested in, according to Moran.
With the acquisition, WhoSay will become part of Viacom’s offering to clients during the upfront.
Moran said the idea is to be a full-service provider and create bespoke solutions to help clients achieve their marketing goals.
“We see them asking ‘how do I get to the consumer wherever they are.’ For years you heard us talking about that, and while we could always bring them solutions on our main platforms, this year in the upfront we’re truly able to stay whereever the consumer is, we’re going to be able to bring you these solutions and WhoSay is going to be a vital part of that,” Moran said.
Following the acquisition, WhoSay will remain in its current offices in New York and Los Angeles and work as independent collaborators working with Viacom’s Marketing & Partner Solutions group including Viacom Velocity, its Digital Studios unit.
“We have 70 plus people working at Who Say," said Ellis, and they’ll be able to work at a larger scale with counterparts at Viacom with whom they’ve already built up a trusting relationship.
“We been incredibly encouraged and surprised by how effective that partnership has been. Most partnerships are not always effective and frequently don’t result in working as smoothly as you’d like,” he said. “Quite the opposite here.”
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Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.