Saturday, August 14, 2010

If You Build a Web Series Around It, Will They Come?

For Some Brands, the Answer Is an Enthusiastic Yes; for Others, Not So Much

LOS ANGELES ( -- In the past three years, it seems "Make me a branded web series" has become the new "Make me a viral video" for marketers, with brands as varied as Ikea, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese and even Poise incontinence pads all trying their hands at branded storytelling online. 

But as these webisodes clamor to find audiences in increasingly fragmented numbers, a larger metric for success pervades: Did they actually deliver on the hoped-for ROI for the brand?

For marketers, the typical web series consists of a half-dozen five-minute episodes costing an average of $100,000 to $1 million to create -- a paltry sum considering a typical 30-second spot can cost more than three times the price the most expensive web show.

Yet the bar has been high ever since "In the Motherhood," an online sitcom co-created by Mindshare Entertainment on behalf of clients Sprint and Unilever, became a massive hit on MSN, accumulating more than 16 million views by its second season and eventually becoming a sitcom for ABC. But its swift broadcast cancellation forced advertisers and producers alike to re-evaluate the ultimate metric for determining a web series' long-term success: Instead of being picked up by a TV network, why isn't re-investment by the brand the new barometer for success?

As the web matures as an original entertainment platform, so do the metrics for success. Ad Age took a look at the vast crop of web series from the past year to spotlight 10 that worked and three that did not.

"Buppies" and "My Black Is Beautiful"

Procter & Gamble
The Premise: Procter & Gamble's dedicated line of products targeted toward black women got the entertainment approach last fall when the country's top marketer co-produced two web series with BET. "Buppies," a scripted drama, featured presenting sponsorship and product integration for Cover Girl's Queen Collection, while "My Black Is Beautiful" showcased the eponymous line of P&G products in makeover settings.
The Result: "Buppies," BET's first original web series, has attracted more than 2 million views online since launch, while "My Black Is Beautiful," the TV series, drew an average 3.6 million viewers in its second season on BET. The My Black Is Beautiful collection has seen sales grow 20% in the first half of 2010, while dollar-share increases during second-quarter 2010 were seen by participating brands Pantene (up 14%), Cover Girl (4%) and Olay (up 3%).

"Easy to Assemble"

The Premise: Indie actress Illeana Douglas takes a job at an Ikea to escape the confines of Hollywood, only to find that a host of other actors (Justine Bateman, Tim Meadows, Ed Begley Jr., Tom Arnold, Cheri Oteri) are already working there. Ikea came onboard as an integrated sponsor to raise its profile among hip, cash-conscious furniture shoppers.
The Result: Produced for a shoestring mid-six-figure budget that includes a name cast, some location shooting in Burbank and no external media buys, "Easy to Assemble" is the little web series that could. During its second-season run from October 2009 to January 2010, the show accumulated 12 million video views, 5,000 iPhone-app downloads and more than 34,000 mentions on social media. The show returns for a third season this fall.

"In Gayle We Trust"

American Family Insurance
The Premise: Gayle Evans ("Clueless" star Elisa Donovan) is a small-town insurance agent who tries to be all things to all people in this branded sitcom for American Family Insurance, created for NBC's Digital Studio. The series is part of a larger branded-entertainment program Mindshare Entertainment helped plan for AFI, including an MSN financial-advice video series and custom content for CBS Radio.
The Result: The first season attracted nearly 3 million views, enough for American Family Insurance to renew it for a just-launched second season (NBC Digital Studio's first multiseason pickup). In aggregate, American Family Insurance's branded-entertainment program yielded a 20% lift in quote starts and a 24% increase in purchase intent. Requests for an agent also got a measurable boost from the program's microsites.

"The Real Women of Philadelphia"

The Premise: Kraft teamed with its Publicis agencies Kraft Content One and Digitas, as well as social-media entertainment company EQAL, for a video contest to promote its Paula Deen-hosted brand relaunch of Philadelphia Cream Cheese last September. Fans were asked to submit videos of consumer-generated recipes using the Philly staple, with a chance to win $25,000 and participate in a cook-off with Ms. Deen in Georgia.
The Result: More than 4,000 recipes were submitted to the contest's microsite, which has logged more than 600,000 unique visitors since its March launch. Additionally, Paula Deen's YouTube video for the contest has been viewed more than 10 million times, an indication of the campaign's broader cultural awareness. As part of a multimillion-dollar relaunch for the brand, the contest has helped Philly Cream Cheese achieve a 6% increase in sales since last September.

"The Temp Life"

The Premise: Staffing and temping agency Spherion wanted to make students, recent grads and entry-level professionals aware of its job-finding services when it signed up to sponsor CJP Digital Media's "The Temp Life" back in 2006. As the series evolved and the job market worsened, the "Temp Life" took on an almost meta-reality for the agency as its audience adopted the temp lifestyle portrayed by the series' characters.
The Result: Recently renewed for a fifth season, "The Temp Life" has quietly become the longest-running branded series on the web, with each season adding an average of 85% more viewers, according to web-video measurement firm Tubefilter. Spherion Corp. CEO Roy Krause has publicly declared the series his company's top marketing priority.*

Five more that worked

"Into The Heart of Italy," Bertolli

Why It Worked: Unilever's reality series starring Marisa Tomei logged more than 40 million views across the web and boosted the Bertolli brand's volume, unit share and dollar share compared to the 12-week period prior to the show's launch. 

"Hellmann's Real Food Project," Hellmann's Mayonnaise

Why It Worked: Another Unilever series, the microsite's videos were viewed more than 600,000 times and helped the mayonnaise brand outperform the rest of Unilever's otherwise flat spreads products during the first quarter it aired. 

"Business on Main," Sprint (

Why It Worked: Sprint's custom content for the small-business owner was successful and sticky, with more than 7.7 million video views, 84,000 pieces of content shared and 58% of users watching at least one episode all the way through. 

"1 in 3 Like Me," Poise

Why It Worked: The campaign, which starred Whoopi Goldberg, made light bladder leakage a hot topic (and the subject of an "SNL" skit), and helped the Kimberly-Clark pads achieve the highest share of the incontinence category's sales in the brand's history. 

"Fit to Boom," Subway

Why It Worked: Logging over 4.5 million total site visits, "Fit to Boom" saw 3 million video views at a 50% completion rate and boosted purchase intent among baby boomers by 12%.

Three that didn't work

"The Broadroom," Maybelline
Why It Didn't Work: Candace Bushnell's first scripted web series attracted well-known actresses (Jennie Garth, Jennifer Esposito) and a smart partner (More magazine) but had poor distribution strategy. Available only on a Maybelline microsite, the series has logged a middling 433,000 views to date.
"The Narrow World of Sports With Peter Mehlman," Palm Pre
Why It Didn't Work: YouTube's splashy branded-entertainment debut had a familiar host ("Seinfeld" alum Mehlman) interviewing big-name athletes, but viewers didn't latch on very quickly -- the series banked less than 1 million total views. Sponsor Palm Pre didn't have too good of a year either -- sales plunged by 29% in first quarter 2010.
"Woke Up Dead," Kodak
Why It Didn't Work: Sony's heavily hyped zombie series starring Jon Heder ("Napoleon Dynamite") started out strong with 1.4 million views in 10 days, but quickly lost viewers with a 56% drop-off in its second week and an average 6.54% decline in the weeks after. Neither sponsor Kodak nor the busy cast has signed up for a second season.

Three to watch

"The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers," Puma (Hulu)
It's "Step Up" meets "X-Men," as this new Paramount Digital series takes the medium to gravity-defying heights, courtesy of Puma. The show has routinely topped Hulu's most-viewed series since its July debut.
"Fact Checkers Unit," Samsung
Two amateur copy editors for a men's magazine enlist their Samsung phones to check the most obscure facts about guest stars such as rocker Dave Navarro, supermodel Karolina Kurkova and "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek.
"Around the World For Free," American Airlines and AT&T
"Big Brother" and "Amazing Race" alum Jeff Schroeder takes a consumer-generated trek across the globe paying not even as much of a dime for his travels, courtesy of transportation sponsor American Airlines and communications partner AT&T. ~ ~ ~ 

Why Print Advertising Isn't Working

Viewpoint: Could It Be Because Much of It Isn't Really Good?

Philip W. Sawyer
Philip W. Sawyer
The exercise was simple: To update a presentation on print-advertising effectiveness, I needed to select about 20 ads to test their stopping power, branding ability and level of engagement -- the three key elements that drive purchase consideration and, ultimately, sales. Keeping in mind a set of principles that I had developed in more than 20 years of advertising research, I looked through 15 magazines and pulled about 50 ads that either positively or negatively exemplified those principles. Later, as I tried to cull my 50 ads down to 20, I came to a shocking realization: Almost all of the ads had caught my eye because they were egregiously negative examples of the principles.

This wasn't good. Experience has taught me that only about 33% of print ads are effective, but only about 5% of the ads I had selected were examples of good creative design. And for any ad-effectiveness research to be useful, it has to be discriminating. If almost all the ads are weak, then our analysis has no real foundation. Was I subconsciously looking for bad ads? Perhaps. So I went back to all my magazines and began a new search, specifically to find ads that were likely to attract and sustain reader attention.

It took me a long time. Maybe I've become one of those old codgers who bemoan the lack of standards and whines that everything was better in the old days. But here is another possibility: Maybe print advertising today just isn't very good. Maybe very few people are mindful of the research that has demonstrated what makes print advertising work, and maybe a lot of people who are creating print ads these days are doing it based on the lovely ideas that come out of their divine imaginations -- and that have nothing to do with how people really see and respond to ads.
What is wrong with print ads?
They lack stopping power and, therefore, a visceral connection with the reader. The ads that consistently attract initial attention tend to be those with a single photograph comprising one powerful focal point. So many print ads today err on either side of that principle: Either they eschew the use of photographs entirely in order to pack the page with verbiage, or they contain several images, thus diffusing rather than concentrating attention, which, in turn, results in boredom and the reader abandoning the page.

Photographs are the primary attention-getting element in an ad, and the only thing worse than the absence of a powerful, eye-catching image is a plethora of images. One compelling photograph with one alluring focal point is both sufficient and necessary to bring readers to the page -- the advertiser's first goal.
They inhibit involvement. Clean copy is read copy. Just as the journey to the heart and the emotions generally begins with the image, the path to the rational, decision-making sphere is through the verbiage on the page. Arousing an emotional response is important, but so is appealing to the intellect. Making a good, cogent argument for the product or service is what transforms the interested bystander into a committed shopper and advocate. 

Unfortunately so many advertisers undermine their advertising messages by employing variously sized and shaped fonts in their headlines or by presenting the body copy over photographs with variously shaded backgrounds, making the copy almost impossible to read without a considerable amount of work.

Most readers are willing to work to understand the articles in the publication, but not to comprehend the pitch in an ad. If you provide them with concise, easy-to-read headlines and body copy, and if they are at all interested in the product, they will read even lengthy body copy -- and are then far more likely to call the company to get more information, to talk about it to others, and to purchase the product.
They "flow" badly. Every ad takes the reader on a kind of visual journey, which typically begins with the photograph and then moves on to the headline, body copy and logo. The tendency of the American reader is to move downward and to the right in keeping with the way that we read full texts. However, the ways in which the elements are placed on the page can alter that natural flow. For example, if the body copy is placed at the top of the page and the photograph below it, most readers will first go to the photograph and then proceed downward. They are unlikely to "fight gravity" and float back to the top of the page to read the body copy, which is unfortunate because the body copy is where the argument for the sell takes place. If you look at many ads carefully, you start to see that most are haphazardly put together and many will, without the intention of the creators, send the reader on a journey that subverts the interests of the advertiser. Effective print ads employ creative devices that, like good Sherpas, smoothly take the reader through all the critical points on the page.
They display little interest in generating meaningful action. Print advertising has increasingly become more response-driven -- which is entirely fitting and proper. And yet, if you select a sample of print ads and try to find any response information, you will see that in many cases you're going to have to work hard to find it. In a substantial number of ads, the 800-number and website addresses are indistinguishable from the rest of the copy and, perhaps most important, that information is placed at the end of the block of copy. And then print advertisers wonder why their ads aren't getting a response and blame the medium for its presumed failures.
They do not emphasize benefits and, therefore, provide little "reason to believe." Something sinister happens to marketers when they turn to print advertising. Somehow in the transformation of an argument into print, they cease being sellers and, instead, become self-portrait painters, content to describe the product and service, relying on obtuse (but often clever and sometimes poetic) value statements or rhetorical questions. They thus avoid any attempt to answer the consumer's most pressing question, "What's in it for me?" Here is what is vitally important for advertisers to remember: Most consumers are uninterested in what you are committed to or how devoted you are to innovation or your proud history or your philosophy. What they want to know is how you are going to save them time or money, make them more effective or healthier, happier and richer.

And consider this true story. Sometime in the early 1990s while reading The Wall Street Journal, I spotted a small, direct-response ad from a shirt manufacturer. The ad featured drawings of four different kinds of dress shirts and a brilliant headline, "Great Shirts. Great Prices." The body copy neatly and concisely underscored the ideas in the headline, emphasizing the facts that the shirts were 100% close-knit cotton and built for comfort and durability. I called the 800 number, and the owner of the small company answered the call.

After I ordered, I asked him how his ad was performing. "I'll say this," he said, "that's the last time you're going to see this ad for a long time." Stunned, I asked him how this could be. There was a pause, and then he said, "I've gotten so many orders after placing the ad that I can't fulfill them fast enough." His point was proved during the two long months it took to process my order and deliver my shirts (which, by the way, were everything that he had promised).

The point, again, is that print advertising does work. And the first question that any advertiser should ask when an ad fails to fulfill expectations is not, "What's wrong with print advertising?" but "What's wrong with my ad?"
Philip W. Sawyer is senior VP-solutions consultant at Harris Interactive.