It’s 2010. You’ve got a venerable brand in the U.K. but it’s virtually unknown in the U.S. You’re also aiming to be the first company to sell your product direct to consumers online. How do you generate awareness?
How many of you answered: “You create a branded entertainment series on the Web that doesn’t mention your name — or hint at what you do — except for a short lead-in and close during its first 10 episodes”?
That’s exactly what business insurance company Hiscox did when it wanted to establish itself as a company that understood the tribulations of small-businesspeople. In 2011, it launched a Web comedy series about five co-workers who get “released” — not “laid off,” says their boss — from their positions and eventually start a company together.
You may be among the digerati who generated more than 10 million views and 40 million social media impressions for the 20 episodes of “Leap Year” over its two-year run. I wasn’t. But I watched a bunch with delight after hearing Hunter Hoffmann, the head of U.S. communications for Hiscox, talk about how the show built its audience — potential customers with which it could continue to communicate — during a PR Newswire webinar Wednesday, “Brand Monitoring: Delivering Actionable Business Intelligence to the C-Suite.”
Although its advice was keyed to PR campaigns, I recommend a listen to any brand advocate who has to make the ROI case to higher-ups — or peers — who are stuck in an ad-value equivalency state of mind.
I later followed up with Hoffmann to see how he managed to sell the idea of a scripted show with no brand hokum to his bosses, as well as to learn more about Hiscox’s latest initiatives, which play off its new “Encourage Courage” advertising platform.
For Hoffmann, the real convincing came when the scripts got circulated and there was no direct tie-in to Hiscox products, or even the fact that such a thing as business insurance exists. He’d get suggestions like, “Can’t we have it that their laptop falls in the toilet and then they talk about their insurance?”
Hoffmann kept stressing that “Leap Year” was both branded and entertainment. “I kept coming back to, ‘What we want to do is create a piece of entertainment people like, and to create a positive brand association because of doing that, rather than trying to force it on people.’”
The producers also reached out to a few well-connected social networkers — Adam Ostrow, Guy Kawasaki, Gary Vaynerchuk — who made cameo appearances and, of course, tweeted about it to a collective few million followers.
For the second season, in 2012, the show had built up enough credibility that Hoffmann felt it was okay to insert a :30 spot in the middle of the now-expanded 20- to 22-minute episodes. The show has since been sold to an undisclosed production company; as part of the deal, Hiscox will get promotional consideration as well as share in the revenue.
Hiscox's new series, “Courageous Leaders,” is running exclusively across Vox Media, whose editorial staff was explicitly “not involved” in the production. The mini-docs feature five New York entrepreneurs — Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley and Lyons Den Power Yoga’s Bethany Lyons are two — talking with actor Hartley Sawyer about how they kept going when doubts descended or money got tight.
“When you see them on TV, or the covers of magazines you think, ‘Oh, it must be so easy for them,’” says Hoffman. “But I think they all told us, in their own way, that it was never easy and there were plenty of times that I doubted myself.”
Again, the takeaway Hiscox is looking for is that the company understands and supports entrepreneurs.
“We’re incredibly happy with the response so far in terms of millions of social media impressions really driving the tagline #EncourageCourage since we launched in three weeks ago,” Hoffmann says.
Hiscox has also signed on as a sponsor for the Tough Mudder obstacle challenges. Look for videos down the line featuring participants whose “personal courage translates into … all the things you need to do as an entrepreneur — the tough skin, being able to bounce back….”
You do get the feeling that Hoffmann can relate.
Screenvision is launching new branded content productions with BiteSizeTV, @hollywood and Andy Riesmeyer that will showcasebrands such as Ford, Dell, State Farm and Norwegian Cruise Line. It also promoted two-time Emmy winner, Matt Arden, to senior vice president/executive creative director of its 40 Foot Solutions studio…. Rabt, a content personalization startup, completed a $325,000 seed funding round it will use to scale up its IT infrastructure, launch new B2B features and expand staffing…. WPP, DailyMail and Snapchat announced at Cannes Lions Festival that they are forming a joint content marketing venture called Truffle Pig (email: email@example.com). Noting the forecasts for only moderate growth in the agency business, WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell drew a parallel with the situation facing media companies when the dot-com boom erupted. “At some point in time, you do cannibalize what you have,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “I believe in eating your own children.”… The Branded Content and Entertainment Lions winners will be announced Saturday night. BBDO’s David Lubars, the jury president, said his panel would “mine for transcendent and inspired storytelling that snaps heads back.” No neck braces were needed last year, as none of the cited entrees walked off with the Grand Prix.