That’s branded entertainment

It ain't your dad's advertising. In an age of TiVos, PVRs, time-shifting IPTV and interactive VOD, the battle to keep viewers hooked during that 30-second ad break is no longer about buying consumer attention, but earning it. One way is to meld brand DNA into storylines - an effort that has often been a trivial pursuit as brands fall flat playing producer and starlet. It has, nonetheless, given way to more realistic content plans that marry the best of branded entertainment deals with online potential. 'The Internet has changed a lot of things,' says Jeff Spriet, founder of Chokolat, one of Canada's first branded entertainment companies. 'We have to start accepting how people are consuming media and find a way to get our message to them in the new reality.'

It ain’t your dad’s advertising. In an age of TiVos, PVRs, time-shifting IPTV and interactive VOD, the battle to keep viewers hooked during that 30-second ad break is no longer about buying consumer attention, but earning it. One way is to meld brand DNA into storylines – an effort that has often been a trivial pursuit as brands fall flat playing producer and starlet. It has, nonetheless, given way to more realistic content plans that marry the best of branded entertainment deals with online potential. ‘The Internet has changed a lot of things,’ says Jeff Spriet, founder of Chokolat, one of Canada’s first branded entertainment companies. ‘We have to start accepting how people are consuming media and find a way to get our message to them in the new reality.’

More nomadic than ever before, brands are leveraging mass media deals to tease consumers into embracing content primarily driven by the web, where richer, more immersive experiences improve affinity. After all, the more time they can get the consumer to spend in their world, the better the ROI.

Online, Canadian brands’ ‘entertainment Q’ may lag behind some global efforts, but more are in the game, and offline/online programs with more entertainment value are emerging.

Are advertisers in Canada getting the mix right? We think so. Whether as a fun component of a larger multi-platform campaign or by leveraging TV integration deals, some Canadian marketers are ‘playing producer’ and claiming critical success. Not convinced? Read on.

Johnson’s new soaps

Canwest’s women’s lifestyle channel, Slice, is launching the fourth season of its popular series The Mom Show this month – this time with Johnson’s Baby on board.

The partnership has the century-old brand looking beyond the traditional media buy in a deal that gives Johnson’s year-round television exposure, reportedly more than doubling their 2007 level of TV-based advertising.

The brand’s move is part of a larger strategic plan, an integrated multi-platform campaign that includes digital media, content syndication, presentation of a live television event and even custom commercial production featuring TV personalities – a first for Johnson’s Baby in Canada. And The Mom Show was seen as the bull’s-eye for providing Johnson’s with key metrics during various phases of the campaign.

‘We chose to partner with Canwest because The Mom Show covers so many topics that give information and education to new moms, who are our core consumers,’ says Nancy Murphy, senior brand manager at Johnson’s. ‘It wasn’t just a traditional media buy; they had a great catalogue of shows that we wanted to associate the brand with. The Mom Show specifically was where we really beefed up our partnership. There was a really nice fit with what we stand for as a brand and what The Mom Show offers to viewers. The show’s frankness reflects the way we talk to consumers; they do it in a fun and engaging way and offer relevant information that moms are looking for. We try to do the same, not just through the products we offer but with education initiatives as well, so there was a fit from an information perspective.’

Johnson’s Baby also provided special content segments that will be woven into new episodes of The Mom Show. Johnson’s Baby Diaries – 18 new two- to four-minute vignettes – are expected to become a regular segment of the show (in about 25% of its episodes). The vignettes focus on moms and tots at various stages – pregnancy, birth or motherhood – with Johnson’s products integrated into the storyline. ‘It’s not a hard push brand message; it truly is education that can help moms to better prepare,’ explains Murphy. ‘There’s a lot more than what you should have in your hospital bag.’

‘We worked with Johnson’s to determine what the content would be,’ says Anna Wells, national account executive, Canwest sales, marketing ventures. ‘Johnson’s gave us information about the really important things that have come through in their research – the questions that they received regularly from new moms – so we guided one another.’

Johnson’s Baby even partnered with The Mom Show producers to determine the shoot location of its live-to-air kick-off show, which will appear on Slice this fall. ‘We picked Calgary because there’s a mini baby boom happening there right now, and the West is an important market to us,’ says Murphy. ‘We thought it made sense to get out of the traditional Ontario focus, so we influenced that spot location.’

‘As marketers we don’t get the chance to produce commercials all the time,’ says Murphy. ‘This was a very different level of production for us. We’re extremely satisfied that it’s allowed us to better engage with consumers and really partner on a local level to bring that Johnson’s message to Canadian moms.’

As part of the deal, Canwest also plans to repurpose some 100 webisode segments from content in previous seasons of The Mom Show, and embed them in, Johnson’s proprietary site.

The brand will continue to sponsor other shows looped into Slice’s heavily watched midday timeslot beginning this fall, which includes Birth Stories and Birth Days as well as Maternity Ward, Baby Squad, John and Kate Plus 8, Desperate Midwives, Doctor in the House and House of Babies on the Discovery Health Channel.

The Johnson’s Baby block of programs airs weekdays between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Slice.

Telus Mobility crashes Idol

Canadian Idol fans may have noticed something a little different on the show this past summer. Every Monday night, prior to the show’s second commercial pod, the latest ‘episode’ in a Telus-sponsored series featuring Ron Ronn unspools, chronicling the efforts of a lovable loser who failed his Idol audition but nonetheless intends to pursue his music career against all odds.

The quirky character, who uses the Telus smartphone to manage his budding career, was created by Taxi for Telus Mobility to redefine the smartphone experience among Telus’ younger target group, which might otherwise be intimidated by its applications.

‘Ron Ronn has a likeable quality you often find in an underdog,’ explains Rose Sauquillo, creative director, Taxi Toronto. ‘He has the passion to be a big music star but is oblivious to the fact that his vocal talent falls a bit short. Characters like him are easy to love, since people tend to have a train wreck mentality.’ The strategy behind this kind of creative also results in one important takeaway: If Ron Ronn can use a smartphone, anyone can.

‘There were so many directions Taxi could have taken this brief,’ says Sauquillo. ‘But it made sense to embrace the Canadian Idol property and do something Idol fans could identify with. What’s more relevant than a character who fails his audition but is still determined to make it despite what the judges say?’

‘We knew that there was an opportunity to do something a little bit different,’ says Tammy Scott, VP marketing communications, Telus. ‘You have to push yourself to do innovative things, and in our case in particular because products and services are getting more complex. Maybe a 30-second commercial isn’t enough to show people just how much they can enhance their lives.’

Unlike the 30-second commercial approach (which gets repetitive in an appointment viewing environment), a series of 10 30-second episodes lends itself to a broader message, and keeps viewers engaged in the evolution of the story. ‘We were able to demonstrate much more product functionality than we would with just one traditional 30-second ad,’ explains Scott. ‘We’re showing 10 different things you can do with your smartphone; with a 30-second ad you could only [show] one.’

Indeed, as the dramedy unravels with Ron Ronn and his best friend and manager Mueller getting more determined to land the ultimate gig, each episode gave viewers opportunities to witness how smartphone technology and services could enhance his budding career, whether it’s taking pictures and posting them on Facebook or using the Telus navigation feature. ‘It was really about putting our products and services in real-life scenarios and showing people how they can enhance their lives,’ says Sauquillo. To further bring the character to life, Ron Ronn also made an appearance on the show’s seventh episode.

‘We had a lot to say about what smartphones can do which requires the attention of our consumer,’ says Scott. ‘Why would they want to sit through something that’s not entertaining? We have to give them a reason to watch, because their time is valuable.’

By echoing Idol content, the Ron Ronn episodes offered a virtually seamless experience between the show and the ad, and each offline 30-second segment closed with a prominent URL, signalling a bigger experience waiting for fans online. The fun, interactive site-world, where ‘Ronaholicks’ could ‘checkit, checkit’ and hear him ‘kick it double-R style,’ developed Ron Ronn’s character beyond the segments. It also helped to create deeper ties with consumers, while at the same time familiarizing them with Telus smartphone applications.

‘Ron Ronn’s generating a lot of market buzz, and there are plenty of visits to the microsite,’ says Sauquillo. ‘People are averaging over six minutes of time on the site. That tells us we’ve given visitors a lot of interesting stuff to check out, and a unique, integrated idea.’

‘The viral component was something we were hoping would help build momentum around the campaign, and that’s in fact the case,’ says Scott. ‘People are emailing friends about it and setting up to be a fan on Facebook.’

‘Today, TV and print are still strong media options, but we need to expand our thinking to options that allow a different kind of engagement,’ says Sauquillo. ‘Consumers have an experience with the brand rather than being preached to by an advertiser.’

Subaru’s sumos prove sexy sells

First, there were BMW Films, the high-production-value, riveting viral mini-flicks. And then, not so much ground-breaking material. But this summer, the 2009 Subaru Forester took a sharp turn into some mighty racy marketing.

With its flagship brand in decline over the past five years, Subaru needed to tap into a larger, more mainstream market looking to buy Japanese brands. That meant positioning itself against biggies like Toyota, Honda and Mazda in a highly competitive category. It also needed to convince consumers who knew very little about the brand to consider buying one for the very first time. So with the 2009 model redesign serving as the launching pad, the Forester franchise focused on attracting a new, younger demo looking at trading in their youthful car for a larger vehicle.

‘Consumers still want to feel good about the practical side of a small SUV purchase, but with more fun attached,’ says Cathy Kim, director of production for Subaru’s AOR, Tribal DDB Toronto. ‘We wanted to do this in the biggest way possible. We realized that by playing to this inherent need, we could carve out a definitive position in consumers’ minds. Research told us we still needed to play up Subaru’s Japanese roots, which put us firmly in the competitive set with the CRV and RAV4.’

So DDB came up with an integrated campaign, launched on television with the memorable sexy sumo car wash scene. The 60-second spot garnered widespread coverage and became the most talked-about automotive viral video in the world over a week, with over a half a million YouTube views. Magazine and newspaper ads followed featuring Subaru’s sumos in a series of sexy poses mirroring classic pin-up images. The sexy sumo was even placed in various Xbox 360 games with virtual out-of-home billboards. At dealerships, consumers were greeted with even more sexy-sumo imagery, including life-sized cutouts, some of which were subsequently stolen. For radio, the sexy theme was addressed differently, with a sultry, Barry White-type voice interjecting during the announcer’s product description, repeatedly mentioning how the specific features make him feel like ‘makin’ love.’

All of this activity directed potential customers to, where they were greeted by the ’2009 Subaru Forester Sexy Photo Shoot.’ Their challenge: to capture a sexy sumo wrestler posing with the new vehicle while learning all about its new features.

‘We wanted our site to act like a game but feel more like an experience,’ says Kim. After coming up with the concept for the site, Tribal engaged Ottawa-based Fuel Films, known for Fox work like Stewie Live.

Much like an interactive game, users are briefed about the shoot at the site, and invited to select an area of the Forester on which to get started (familiarizing themselves, in the process, with the Forester’s new features). Once the vehicle feature is selected, the model – world sumo wrestling champion Byambajav Ulanbayar – walks into the light, and the shoot begins.

As Ulanbayar flashes his many humourous ‘sexy’ poses in, on and around a 2009 Forester, users can position the camera as they wish and snap as many photos as they like, giving them full control over the shoot. There’s even a light board to review and digitally alter photos to create unique works of art which can posted for other visitors to see, or to submit for a shot at a prize package including a Canon Digital SLR, a Macbook Air and a copy of Photoshop CS3.

The result? Record-breaking Forester sales in May, June and July (more then doubling previous years’ numbers). Dealer traffic during the campaign was up over 15%, and web traffic more than doubled. Subaru’s share of the small Japanese SUV segment grew five points to 12%, and overall Subaru brand sales grew by over 23%.

‘The traditional 30-second TV spot is in trouble,’ says Warren Tomlin, CCO at Fuel. ‘While Subaru certainly did a 30-second spot for the Subaru, we can create a 600-second spot and have a consumer interact for 10 minutes on the Web. It’s a more engaging way of interacting with the brand.’