The media landscape has abruptly changed. Magazines have shuttered, newspaper circulation has dwindled and viewers have tuned out broadcast television. Where are brands to turn now that the established advertising channels have dried up?
To the Internet, of course, where they’re creating their own content to advertise around: web series.
Web series – online shorts created for advertisers, also known as webisodes and branded entertainment – are having a great year. Brands like Ikea, American Family Insurance, Sara Lee, Hidden Valley Ranch and Maybelline have flocked to the trend, reaping positive results.
The notion is not completely new, harkening back to the early days of entertainment and radio and television shows sponsored by a sole brand. Today, what has changed is the extent to which brands are involved in the creative process.
A keen eye is put towards creating, first and foremost, entertaining content -- as well as avoiding hucksterism:
“The market place is shifting and brands have to think of themselves as media companies,” said David Freeman, general manager at Matter in Los Angeles, a Clorox agency that is part of the Edelman Sports and Entertainment Marketing unit of Edelman. But when developing branded entertainment, “the entertainment part has to come first,” he added, otherwise consumers will dismiss it as “pushing a product.”
A major platform for many webisodes has been NBC Universals Digital Studio, a unit created last year to specialize in shows that “have an episodic, TV feel but [are] digestible, in portions sized appropriately for online viewing — typically three to seven minutes each.” NBCU plays host to American Family Insurance’s “In Gayle We Trust,” starring Elisa Donovan, and Hidden Valley Ranch’s “Garden Party,” starring Jennie Garth.
A challenge to the network is to not alienate viewers with too much promotion. NBCU says it is committed to creating valuable entertainment in collaboration with brands, while safeguarding their own brand against shameless promotion. Cameron Death, president for digital content at NBCU, places a priority on maintaining the NBC brand: “I am the keeper of the NBC brand as much as anybody else’s brand…I can’t put the peacock logo on.”
Web series can also be used off the Internet, repackaged for on-demand channels and in mobile shorts, offering brands greater awareness and viewers.