Call Me Crazy

This new year will bring us millions of new channels and unlimited options to consume content. As marketers, our greatest risk will be the wasting of our resources on creating content that is lost in the clutter. The search for safe advertising is the hunt for an elusive creature. Advertising must take risks to get noticed.

The first reaction I get to the idea of branded entertainment is, “Oh, that’s not for our brand. We aren’t that cool.” My response is always, “Why?”

Why can’t your brand participate in this new arena of media? What was so cool about soap and cereal? Some would argue not much, but those companies premiered sponsored radio and TV dramas of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Who’s cool now?

Henry Ford Health System engaged Hollywood production, producing a prime time TV series that won Emmy Awards. They are not alone. Following this lead, Johns Hopkins, Cleveland Clinic, Penn Medicine, Uhealth, Advocate, and many others, have all produced TV shows about their hospitals. What is so cool about hospitals?

Why do we look to others first?

I discussed this at length in an earlier blog post of mine:

When we start out in advertising or marketing, everyone wants to work for the provocative companies. The brands that get mentions in the industry rags. The brands that get to cut loose. “Red Bull is so daring,” they say. “Look at what Nike just did!” they chant. “Did you see the production Coke just pulled? We could never do that,” they lament.

My question is, “Why can’t you?” Isn’t that our job? If we can’t make hospitals, banks or deodorant exciting, we should find another career. Limiting yourself or your advertising efforts because of a preconceived notion about your industry can be harmful.

Imagine, for example, you lived in the 1960s, and your retail client asked you to create ads for a boring product such as a shoe. Nobody then would have imagined that Nike would later do what it did for the shoe industry.

Instead, look up and out.

Let’s take, for example, an insurance company. Look past what your competition is doing. This works for any “uncool” industry. Instead, study the best companies doing the best work. Look at the Coca-Colas and the Nikes.

Or, take a look at what North Face has produced. Their efforts can inspire yours, even if your industry is vastly different.

Recently, North Face took a few pages from the extreme-sports playbook. Partnering with other relevant sponsors — including Red Bull, one of the leading extreme-sports brands — the outfitter has found its place in the homes of cable-cutters through its wildly successful branded ski documentary, Into the Mind. North Face ventured into uncharted mountain ranges for the film, but it was the media-buying strategy that broke new ground. The brand didn’t pay to be on Apple TV. In fact, targeted consumers actually paid to see the brand’s advertising on their digital set-top boxes. The reviews for the film were off the chart.

“Last night was the first time I’ve ever heard anyone get shushed at a ski movie. … ‘Shut up,’ the viewers seemed to be saying, ‘I’m concentrating here,’” stated Heather Hansman of Powder Magazine. “It’s an unquestionably beautiful film.” In fact, viewers not only paid to watch this commercial, they were “concentrating” on this commercial for one hour and 25 minutes. How many times does that happen for your brand? What would you pay for that much emotional engagement with your consumer?

Branded extreme sports media began with a vision of a marketing VP at Red Bull. The mission of Red Bull Media House was to build a media business that would be more profitable than the drink itself. Much like kids’ movies that break even at the box office, the revenue is made on the toys that sell in retail outlets after the film is no longer in the theater. This allows Hollywood to create bigger budget films than ticket sales can justify.

Advertising of the future will be no different. Leading advertisers such as Red Bull are building a model where the ad campaign has a bigger budget than the drink sales can justify, but the Netflix sales are making up the difference. And today these online films and TV events have placed Red Bull to become ranked No. 74 on the Forbes list of top brands in the world.
Valued at $7.9 billion, the Red Bull logo is worth more than the annual gross sales of the company itself. This is in no small way a fulfillment of their mission to have a media company that would outperform the product. They have effectively flipped the marketing model. With revenues quickly approaching $100 million, Red Bull Media House makes more money than most advertising departments spend.

History has proven that people will call us crazy if we challenge the status quo. It’s time to get on board with this movement. It’s time to start planning your entertainment strategy for your brand. That might sound crazy, but I’d rather be crazy than irrelevant. How about you?