In the year 2014, the CNN Digital Studios in association with Cisco produced their first web series, ‘The City of Tomorrow’. The 10-part online series traversed how different cities were trying to improve their citizens' lives. The show explored how Cisco was going to connect everything to the internet and enhance the living conditions. Amidst mixed reviews, it managed to garner scores of views and impressions, creating a solid brand presence. The creators of the show said “we wanted to prove a point and get rid of the notion that digital doesn’t stack up to the quality of television. We have created stories for our ‘brand clients’ which provides real value and information to the audience. The digital medium has allowed us to have brand-new conversations and engagements with our audience and sponsor partners.”
Internet - The omnipresent
In an internet second, about 46.1% of the world population is online, 20,000 people are on Facebook, 729 photos are uploaded on Instagram, 125,406 videos are viewed on YouTube. With so much going on- on the web, advertisers who were sizing up on the situation a few years ago, are convinced that digital is the way forward. Digital technology has revolutionised the way in which entertainment can be used to reach and engage the audience; it has created newer avenues & opportunities for advertisers. Content, more than before, has become a significant factor for advertisers as it can make or break the brand in many ways.
Web - The new television
Every brand has a story to tell. The way in which the brand story is weaved and narrated to the audience is what makes the difference in perceiving the brand. It is seen that "Stories are 20 times more impressive & long-standing than facts alone." With digital technology making inroads into all walks of life, producing content on the web to market a brand has become a rage. There is an increasing appetite from the audience, especially youth to experience storytelling in a whole new way and in a medium which allows them to pick and choose the content ‘without being judged’. It is highly likely that, amongst the youth, television is very soon going to become ‘a thing of the past’.
The last few years saw some outstanding content going around on the web in the form of web series. Web series have given an opportunity to tailor-make the content to the audience requirement. Freedom from censorship allows for the web series to diverge from the established/conventional norms and reflect a more realistic societal condition through its progressive stories.
Although numbers are the holy grail for any business, the brands have realised the value of sharing useful content with the audience, engage them and build communities around the brand. The branded web shows allow for initiating genuine conversations around the brand and monitoring them regularly. Getting immediate feedback about the shows through likes, shares, and comments, help brands modify the content or the format. Thanks to the affordable high-speed internet and streaming technology, the shows on the web can be viewed anytime, anywhere, through most of the compatible electronic gadgets - without time constraints. The social media further facilitates the discussion about the shows and in-turn about the brands, thus making the brand omnipresent!
While branding for a television show still involves a considerable amount of investment by the sponsor, web series are way more flexible. According to AdAge’s Andrew Hampp, creating a branded web series is very economical when compared to other advertising methods. A typical 30-second spot can cost more than three times the spend on the most expensive show online.
Few case studies
Due to the short time frames designed for each of the webisodes (web episodes), messages need to be engaging, crisp and clear. With brands being active online, content marketing has gained a lot of momentum. Depending on the brand investment and involvement, the stories can be either be weaved around the brand or the brand can be infused into a plot in the story. For instance, Hiscox, an insurance company targeting young tech entrepreneurs wanted to build its credibility amongst that class. The branding agency came up with the idea of producing web series based on the lives of tech entrepreneurs (techpreneurs). The directors of Hiscox say, “The show ‘Leap Year’ helped raise the company sales by 35% over the 12 weeks, so much so that the show’s second season was on. The marketing measures around the show, some guest stars, and the link to our website in each of the episodes did the magic for us!”
Using celebrities is one way of garnering more views and attracting more followers/ subscribers, but involving a celebrity needs to be more than a mere appearance, they need to personify the brand. Also, the integration of the brand into the video should not look like a force fit into the concept. Understanding the history of the company & its DNA is imperative in the first place. The web series must communicate about the brand precisely and cannot come out of left field. As a case in point, Moxy Hotels, Marriot Group of Hotels’ lifestyle brand, produced a youtube web series with the name ‘Do Not Disturb’. The creators say, “The series was more of a branding play rather than an attempt to increase the direct sales or conversion. The show aimed at the millennials and created original stories, which could engage & entertain the audience at the same time, while the brand played a character in the story. We collaborated with celebrities who could endorse our brand the truest sense.”
There has been a surge of web shows in India lately which have gained a lot of traction. Commonfloor.com, a real estate portal collaborated with TVF, an online media brand to produce branded content for customer engagement and brand presence. The show, ‘Permanent Roommates’, had the brand integrated into the story seamlessly and garnered around 1 million views for each episode. Title sponsors for the show have an advantage of always being associated with the name of the series. Lakme sponsored the web series ‘Band Baaja Baarat’, a show about weddings in India. The brand made the right move by associating with a concept with which Indians connect emotionally. Realizing the influence & reach of digital media, big players like Yash Raj Films, Tata Group, Snap Deal are all trying their hand in the digital world.
A recent report in Deccan Herald quoted “Some of the television’s biggest names have deserted network & cable for streaming”. Netflix, one of the largest streaming platforms in the world, received 91 Emmy nominations in 2017, and has a shot at winning its first ever drama series with ‘Strange Things’. Mellisa Rosenberg, the writer of the hit show ‘Dexter’, who moved to moved to Netflix to create another hit series ‘Jessica Jones’ says, “The streaming platforms are paying the creators, actors, and for the budget of the shows equal or better than basic cable or network TV.
Wilson Cleveland, the maker of ‘Temp Life’, Web’s first ever brand series, says, “Companies are worried that if we’re not in their face, people won’t know that we make this. But consumers know it’s you. They know the brand that’s behind it. It’s when you keep reminding them that they’ll tune you out.”
In a nutshell, web medium is steadily catching up, especially amongst the youth. People mostly recommend a brand based on its simplicity, so, keeping the concepts simple yet captivating are the key ingredients for brand awareness and audience retention.