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Whole New World for Brands

by Cathy Corcoran

Way back in the 1950s, in the First Golden Age of television, brands (or advertisers, as they were then called) sponsored individual TV shows.


Wild Kingdom was “brought to you by Mutual of Omaha,” Singer Pat Boone starred in The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, and Old Gold sponsored The Jimmy Durante Show, where the famous dancing cigarette packs made weekly appearances.


Fast forward to today, when viewers can watch movies without commercials or fast forward through the ads on network programs that they’ve DVR’d.  What’s a brand to do?


Enter branded content, now playing 24/7 on YouTube and other platforms and attracting millions of viewers that modern brands want to reach.  And NATPE is offering workshops from the brands and producers who are making it all happen.


Kaaren Whitney-Vernon is Senior VP of Branded Entertainment for Shaftesbury Entertainment, a Toronto-based company that works closely with brands to develop content. In partnership with Kotex, makers of women’s sanitary supplies, Shaftesbury developed Carmilla, a web series that aired on YouTube channel KindaTV for three seasons. 


Each season featured 36 separate episodes from three to seven minutes in length. The format featured a single camera trained on Laura, a young college student who broadcast a fictional vlog about her missing roommate.  By August 2017, Carmilla had generated over 70 million views.  At NATPE, Whitney-Vernon will be speaking on the panel, Reimagining Short Form for Television: Getting the Deal Done on Tuesday, January 22.


“We always start with the brand,” Whitney-Vernon said. “We do a deep dive looking at research from our client as well as information on the target market.”  Shaftesbury aimed Carmilla at Kotex’s target demo - young women 18 - 24 - and selected specific YouTube channels popular with that group. In addition to airing the scripted episodes, they also worked with on line influencers to spread the word about the series via social media. 


Pre and post-season research revealed a high level of engagement with the brand among the target audience, along with greater favorability to purchasing Kotex products. “We were also pleasantly surprised to find that we generated a high level of ‘appointment viewing’ on Tuesdays and Thursdays when we released new episodes,” Whitney-Vernon said. In 2017, a full-length feature film, The Camilla Movie, was released in theaters.


Sure, young people watch YouTube, but brand/production alliances can reach older demographics on more traditional platforms as well. Andy Singer, EVP of TV & Digital Content at Alkemy-X is a veteran of bringing branding campaigns to traditional networks. The Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year featured bartenders from 60 countries around the world who made cocktails for a panel of judges. “Think American Idol for bartenders,” Singer says. The series aired for three seasons on 100 TV channels around the world, including the Travel Channel and Food Network.  Singer will moderate the panel Brands Powering Creativity on Tuesday, January 22 at NATPE.


Diego Reserve distributes premium liquor brands Ketel One Vodka, Tanquerray No. Ten Gin, Jonnie Walker Gold Label Reserve and others. The company says that their series  “…. has been instrumental in transforming fine drinking and cocktail culture around the world.”  That's a far cry from a 30-second spot airing in commercial breaks on a traditional TV show.


Some brands are even going further, setting up their own in-house production studios. Marc Battaglia is Executive Creative Director of Marriott International Creative and Content Marketing.  “We think of ourselves as storytellers,” Battaglia said.  “We’re not hitting viewers over the head with booking sites or hotel logos. We’re telling stories that invite viewers to make emotional connections to far-off places. We remind them of how travel stretches our mind and connects us to others, how it can leave us renewed and transformed.”


Marriott's in-house studio develops video products for 30 different brands under the company umbrella, from the budget-friendly Courtyard to the exclusive Ritz Carlton Reserve properties. 


Their five-minute short, The Other End of the Earth had its world premiere at the Boston International Film Festival and was also screened at the Louisiana International Film Festival (LIFF) in Baton Rouge. Narrated by oscar-nominated actress Diane Lane, it depicted beautiful scenes from exotic locations and featured quotes from pioneering female journalist Nellie Bly, who set a new world record in 1889 by traveling around the world in 72 days.


Battaglia and his team designed The Other End of the Earth to highlight the natural beauty, cultural immersion and personalized travel experiences found at Ritz-Carlton Reserves from Paris to Bali. “I, along with the more reckless ones,” says Nellie in Diane Lane’s voice, “decided to go ashore and see what the land had to offer.” The film is available on YouTube and other online platforms.


It’s a whole new world out there for brands and for writers and producers who work with them.  Kaaren Whitney-Vernon will be bringing representatives from Canadian branding agency Henkel, on line retailer Shopify and Red Bull Canada to NATPE with her. She says she wants them to meet people, attend workshops and look at ways to achieve their branding goals in fresh new ways.


“We’re still in the infancy stages here,” she said “That’s what makes these panels - and this whole new area of the business - so exciting.”