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This summer, Munich’s opera lovers had a new space in which to enjoy their favorite pastime, a custom-designed building called the Pavillon 21 Mini Opera Space. Those who preferred a more modern take on music could visit the Mini Music Lounge occupied by techno music label Ruta5 and DJ Ricardo Villalobos, while on the live-music side, The Mini In Concert stream featured bands such as The Hurts and The Ting Tings. Music not your thing? The Mini Drive-In Cinema showed the film Exit Through the Gift Shop (directed by the street artist Banksy), as well as the documentary Keep Surfing, about Munich’s city surfer subculture.
The name “Mini” in their titles doesn’t refer to the scope of the organizer’s ambitions. Rather, it harks to the automotive giant, Mini, which not only sponsored but created the events.
Mini wasn’t the only brand strutting its cultural stuff this summer. BMW partnered with the Guggenheim to launch the BMW Guggenheim Lab, a mobile “laboratory” that will travel around the world over the next six years to develop “forward-thinking solutions for city life” in the areas of architecture, art, design, science, technology and sustainability. The dedicated Web site for the initiative features a game, Urbanology, which allows players to create their own “Future City.”
Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz kicked off a series of three-day festivals in cities around the world, with each curated by an expert from the creative industry, while Louis Vuitton has allied with 12 artists to create an online art hub for London as part of its Young Arts Project, and has developed a Web site, REcreative, which serves as an online community for young people to share and showcase their work.
In October, BMW and the Tate museums in the UK announced BMW Tate Live, a four-year program focusing on performance art to be broadcast on the Internet, with online viewers able to communicate with each other via e-mail and social media channels.
In fact, forward-looking brands are giving whole new meaning to the term performance art, as they seek ever more innovative and edgy ways to reach their target customers amid the increasing fragmentation of the modern media landscape. Automotive giants, beer brands, luxury goods consortiums and, increasingly, fashion and beauty brands are going far beyond using famous faces to plug their wares, instead deploying branded entertainment strategies in which their involvement has evolved from sponsorship to mainstream content creation.
“Brands now talk to audiences in a very different way,” says Chet Fenster, managing partner of U.S. media agency MEC Entertainment. “Thanks to social media, there’s a two-way conversation, and brands now accumulate audiences, so they need to figure out what they want to say and how they can program that to the people they have. It’s about giving [consumers] something that interests them and is of value to them and that is also part of the brand DNA.”
Agrees Eduardo A. Braniff, chief executive officer of the communications agency Imagination in the Americas, “More and more brands are starting to curate experiences.”
Take the Dutch brewer Grolsch, which is trying to establish itself with independent filmgoers. To that end, it launched its Grolsch Film Works initiative in the spring of this year, promising creative screenings and film workshops around the globe.
More recently, the brand has gotten into the business of actually making a film, announcing in September that it had signed up three directors — one each from the U.S., Poland and Russia — and tasking them with shooting 30-minute segments that will then be stitched together to make a full-length feature.
The filmmakers will follow the same brief based on the idea of a “fourth dimension,” and have been asked to explore what this dimension might be, what it looks like and what it sounds like. Val Kilmer is set to star in the project, which will be the first film to come from Grolsch Film Works and is slated for launch in early 2012.
Range Rover has also gotten into the movie business. Being Henry is a film the brand created earlier this year to promote its Evoque model. It’s a Hollywood-inspired movie in which the lead character, Henry, arrives at numerous junctures in the narrative where he is faced with making a decision. Screened only online, the decision-making process is given over to the viewer, who can select from a range of alternatives to push the action along. So rather than see one single film, the audience gets the opportunity to follow nine different story lines and view 32 separate endings.
Being Henry was shot in English, subtitled in nine additional languages and pushed out globally, targeting urban men and women in their early thirties. The film has so far had more than a quarter of a million plays, while more than two-thirds of those who started the film have gone on to finish it. The audience has spent an average seven minutes with the brand.
“The brief was based on choice because the Evoque is the first car from Range Rover which can be heavily personalized,” says Lawrence Weber, head of digital production for the U.K.-based creative agency The Brooklyn Brothers, which developed the campaign. “To bring this to life, we came up with a character making choices, and then consumers making choices for the character in a film.
“We could have developed a game, but that would have been less premium and more male,” continues Weber, “so we focused on a high-production-value film with good writing to make it a good fit with our audience.”
The Dutch consumer electronics maker Philips decided to leverage the Hollywood elite when it went to Ridley Scott Associates (RSA), the advertising production company founded by the director, to source a series of film shorts, Parallel Lines, that it wanted to use to demonstrate the cinema experience in the home, as delivered by Philips television sets.
“We wanted to stand out from the masses and build a brand for TV, and we felt we could do that by commissioning engaging content,” says Wander Bruijel, director of integrated marketing communications at Philips. “For the brief, we gave RSA a single script of just six lines and asked for different interpretations. We got around 50 scripts from RSA’s directors, from which we chose a half-dozen.”
The Parallel Lines shorts premiered on Facebook in 10 markets, and were later broadcast on YouTube in widescreen 21:9 format to enhance the cinematic effect. Philips then followed up with an open competition, Tell It Your Way, based on the same brief, which attracted 650 entries.
Philips says Parallel Lines got 5.8 million video views over a seven-month period — significantly higher than the brand’s regular key performance indicator, while the campaign attracted 9.5 million views across all platforms. There were close to 8,000 pieces of campaign media coverage, and also a shift in brand consideration from 45.6 percent to 49 percent.
“Branded entertainment is part of the marketing mix, and the way tech has evolved, we feel it is the natural thing to be doing,” says Bruijel. “To get consumers to engage with you, you have to entertain, and so why not work together with them, too?”
Two brands buying into that philosophy are Intel and Toshiba. They joined forces during the summer to roll out what they’re calling a “social film.” For the project, called Inside, actress Emmy Rossum played a twentysomething woman incarcerated in a room with only an Intel-powered Toshiba laptop to keep her company. She uses the computer to contact friends, family and the public to get them to help her work out where she is and how she can escape, with the brands asking viewers to tweet clues and post advice to the character’s Facebook wall. The makers also ran a YouTube online casting call, asking viewers to submit videos to the Inside experience, with one clip getting the chance to feature in the action.
The film aired online in a series of short-form episodes, with the editing team incorporating the posts and video that best fit the story line.
Social media integration apart, Inside, with its episodic broadcasting, is more television than movie, and brands’ involvement in TV reaches back to the early days of the medium with the original soap operas. Television still figures highly in current branded entertainment strategies.
Australian beer brand Foster’s tapped into recent U.K. TV history when it brought back Alan Partridge, a comic creation of actor Steve Coogan’s, after an absence of eight years. With the backing of the brand, Coogan came up with an online series, Mid Morning Matters, featuring the Partridge character, and its 12 episodes have notched up some 5 million views across all digital channels.
“Both we as an agency and Foster’s as a brand felt that sponsorship of an existing property would not be enough to get consumers really engaged; what they really should have been doing was getting into consumers’ lives,” says Matt Jagger, the former head of entertainment at Naked Communications, who worked on the campaign. “We agreed that comedy was the right engagement platform for Foster’s, as the brand already had a history of comic TV ad spots, combined with the Australian disposition of sunny optimism and an easy laugh.
“The idea was to find something exclusive, something that people couldn’t normally see, and we came up with bringing back something successful,” he adds. “In effect, we were buying a proven hit and the audience that brings. Steve Coogan and his production company were behind it, too, which was good because talent can get nervous when a brand is involved.”
Jagger is aware of potential brand-creative conflicts and has a clear view. “It’s important that the brand does not dilute the content so that it is no longer entertaining,” he says. “For us, it was about getting the message over that Foster’s brings something of value, and about generating a good feeling around the brand.”
Steven J. Piluso, chief strategy officer at media agency PHD in New York, agrees. “I’ve done projects in the past where there has been no mention of the brand in the content itself, but then the brand has been wrapped around it. If the content is good, that kind of association can be enough. If you go back to an old TV soap, like Texaco Star Theater, it was recognized then — the show had nothing to do with, say, driving across country.”
However, certain kinds of entertainment fit readily into messaging, and branded liaisons with music have a long history.
“Brands have always been patrons to the arts, while musicians have always had to earn a living,” says Richard Kerstein, founder of UK-based Resilient Music, which specializes in music procurement for brands. “There is an absolute desire from large corporations to want to be loved by consumers. They want to be seen as honest, trustworthy and honorable in an era when so many people distrust large companies. If brands want people to feel good about them, one way of doing that is to support the things consumers love, one of which is music.”
In 2010, Tommy Hilfiger launched its Loud Radio online streamed-music service featuring American and European DJs playing everything from electro to rock to promote the brand’s Loud fragrance. The offering was also made available on more traditional radio frequencies in 18 markets.
Burberry has been running the Burberry Acoustic campaign since last year, supporting emerging British artists and producing music videos to accompany fashion collections. This summer, Burberry broke a new artist, Misty Miller, and in October delved into music making for the first time when it backed The Feeling to produce an acoustic version of the 2006 single Rosé — the song premiered as the track to the brand’s spring 2011 catwalk show at London Fashion Week, and is also the soundtrack to the latest TV spot for Burberry’s Body fragrance.
Converse is diving deeper still into music production. In July, the streetwear brand opened its Rubber Tracks recording studio in an old dry-cleaning facility in Brooklyn, where it gives new bands the opportunity to record their songs in a high-quality studio for free. Converse is also giving artists the chance to use the converse.com Web site and the brand’s social media channels to promote their music to a millions-strong audience.
“We’ve had around 50 artists come through Rubber Tracks so far, and the basic idea is that it is an opportunity to give back to the music industry, which has been good to us for many years. They like us, and we like them,” says Geoff Cottrill, chief marketing officer of Converse.
The core marketing principle is for Converse to be useful to its consumers, Cottrill explains, adding that the idea came from the gyms the brand had opened in a number of American cities. “We asked ourselves how we could work that kind of thing into music, and we came up with Rubber Tracks,” he says.
Converse thinks its work with the recording studio also reinforces brand values and is a good representation of what the brand is about.
“We want to facilitate creative spirits, because then we believe great things will happen,” says Cottrill. “And we also want to put our marketing dollars to use in what is a very difficult economic climate.”
Another brand riffing on music is Paco Rabanne’s Black XS fragrances, which last year rolled out the Black XS Live Sound Take Away Shows, a series of filmed concerts of new music in nine countries. The Puig Prestige Beauté–owned brand is also supporting the Festival Les Inrocks Black XS series of music concerts, together with French music magazine Les Inrockuptibles. And two months ago, Paco Rabanne Black XS launched, in partnership with Universal Music France, the Be A Rockstar Web site featuring an app that enables consumers to hook up their Webcams to find out what it’s like to live the life of a top rocker. The site also hosts music videos from Universal artists such as the Kaiser Chiefs, Cold War Kids and Two Door Cinema Club. Vincent Thilloy, vice president for Paco Rabanne at Puig, explains that music and entertainment were programmed into the marketing mix for Black XS from the beginning.
“The fragrances were launched with a rock ’n’ roll attitude, something that was already quite developed in fashion but not in our sector,” he says. “Paco Rabanne is a daring brand, and we wanted to be linked with daring music, with new rock bands.”
The core demographic for Black XS is 16- to 25-year-olds, and music hits the sweet spot for this market. “We still invest in TV and magazines, but if we want to go to a larger scale, we need to use new media and communicate differently,” says Thilloy. Marketing experts agree, noting the key to hooking new consumers is to deliver a truly new experience. “There’s no brand which can’t participate in entertainment to reach consumers in their target audience,” says MEC Entertainment’s Fenster. “But they have to give consumers something they need.”
As Imagination’s Braniff reminds, entertainment is just one aspect of defining a brand — but the impressions it makes are lasting. “A content strategy is an invaluable contributor, and content can lend added value,” he says. “And it’s true that the more a brand gives to consumers, the more it curries favor.”
Let Me Entertain You: 5 Key Points
Be a Culture Vulture: Be it film, television, dance, music, art—brands aren’t just sponsoring cultural events, they’re creating them.
Sending the Right Message: To be truly effective, the content should reinforce the central message. Take Range Rover, which enabled viewers to personalize a film to promote its newest, highly personalizable Evoque model.
Think Outside the (Wii) Box: Gaming, while popular, is also less premium and more male oriented than other forms of branded entertainment.
Be Useful: Whether it’s opening a gym or a music recording studio, Converse believes in enabling consumers to do what they want to do, not vice versa.
Clear Channel: For a message to truly resonate, brands should never — ever — dilute the creative content.