Companies & Industries

Is this Kokanee movie the future of entertainment?

It's the next step in branded content

Last summer, I wrote that Labatt and Toronto-based agency Grip Ltd were partnering with Alliance Atlantis to create an entire movie. Well, now it’s done and ready to hit theatres in Western Canada on Mar. 1. The “buddy comedy” called The Movie Out Here is set out West and stars the brand’s cast of established TV spokes-characters in a story that’s been described as Hot Tub Time Machine meets Old School.

Well, if the best thing about this is Snow getting impaled by a road flare, I’d say they’re halfway to victory. What qualifies as victory? Besides selling more beer, it would be proving that a brand can create something worthy of our entertainment eyeballs beyond chuckling at a 30-second ad. Soothsayers from either side of the entertainment and advertising aisle have been crowing for years about the morphing of brands into the media fold. And we’ve seen plenty of successful examples—Vice and its Creator’s Project, Gatorade’s Replay series and pretty much anything Red Bull does. This solid piece by Susan Krashinsky in the Globe and Mail points to the success of the energy drink’s Stratos project that resulted in millions of people watching Felix Baumgartner free fall from space—plastered with Red Bull logos, of course. But the best branded entertainment projects are typically related to sports or documentary-style content, and a far cry away from the fictional narrative world of movies and TV, or artist-driven medium of music. But that’s changing… with mixed results.

The poster children of brand-related flops still have to be Budweiser’s ill-fated online comedy site and ABC’s inexplicable Cavemen sitcom based on the Geico commercials. Bud’s swing at web comedy flopped due to a terrible user interface and hit-and-miss laughs, while the Cavemen show was just a case of an inability to translate a beloved commercial character into a real beloved character. Which is pretty much the same challenge taken up by Kokanee. There’s been more rumblings about brands helping to replace labels in music, but high profile examples like Weezer’s critically-meh 2010 album Hurley prove they haven’t quite got the recipe for a successful template just yet.

The bright spots are few and far between but they do exist. Director Shane Meadows’ award-winning British indie flick Somers Town, was bankrolled by London agency Mother and its client Eurostar, a high-speed rail line. The branding was so subtle it was barely there but earned the brand and the director high fives for seamless integration without any obvious sales pitch.

Film’s a tough nut to crack seeing as you have to convince people to pay money and actually sit through more than an hour of it. Web content, on the other hand, is free and perfect for short attention spans. Waste a minute of my time, I’ll shrug. Waste an hour of it and I’ll never drink your beer again. Perhaps the brightest of the web branded content bunch was IKEA’s “Easy to Assemble” series. Here you had very obvious brand presence but no sales pitch and—SURPRISE!—it was actually funny.

We’ll see how The Movie Out Here does overall, from audience to brand impression and sales, but perhaps marketers should take a closer look at how Netflix built House of Cards for some tips on future content projects. Netflix mined the viewing habits and preferences data from its 33 million customers and used it to decide everything from picking up the series, to selecting David Fincher as the director and Kevin Spacey to star. Marketers have access to and acquire oodles of consumer data, who’s to say they can’t use it to figure out if I’ll watch a show starring Betty White as a wise-cracking granny who JUST HAPPENS to work at a Hellmann’s mayonnaise factory?