Welcome to the branded entertainment gold rush. The early days of web series were nothing compared to what’s coming down the pipe. Back then a handful of awkward campaigns on clunky pages so wrapped in custom branding were somehow seen as the only way to integrate web video and advertising.
Today’s ad agencies have sharped up a bit though, most all of them setting up internal digital divisions complete with a new crop of mad men tasked with making content that connects. This new school knows it needs Hollywood, much like Hollywood needs its brands.
Case in point is Subway’s new reality web series Fit to Boom, created by television studio Reveille in partnership with MSN and Publicis Modem, the new digital arm of ad agency Publicis USA. It’s the first project out of MSN’s new Branded Entertainment & Experiences Team (BEET).
Content overview: Down to earth, watchable.
The series itself feels remarkably real. Even Subway’s longtime frontman Jared Fogle’s true story feels worn and commercialized in comparison. Instead, we get a series of different Baby Boomers who ditched a life of bad habits and jaded outlooks to rejuvenate themselves with new experiences. “It’s never too late to start fresh” is the tagline they are pumping, and it works.
The boomers profiled are all in the midst of a major transformation, mostly career and lifestyle changes that involve getting out and actually playing the sports they only talked about before. Think corporate lawyer turned Colorado ski local.
Major drawback: No embeddable videos.
This has been a dog in MSN’s playbook for a while now, and much to the rancor of bloggers and social media types looking to actually share their series with readers. We complained about this before, with fan-favorite gamer comedy The Guild and its lack of MSN embeds. This is old-media thinking, the kind where the site is the mothership whereby all traffic must pass. As if somehow brand and story don’t travel with the series.
This is Subway’s first venture into branded web series. Meanwhile Reveille, founded by current NBC president Ben Silverman and with a number of TV hits under its belt —The Office, Kath and Kim, Ugly Betty and The Tudors to name a few—is becoming quite seasoned in branded web series. Chef to the Rescue, Five Minute Workout with Bob Harper, Mr Robinson’s Driving School, The Big Debate have been bringing in some sizable sponsor dollars.
It’s reality storytelling, which arguably works better and feels more natural than heavily branded narratives, particularly comedy. As The Cookie Crumbles tried satirizing the soap format and came up short. That’s not going to stop the rush of new branded series however. One notable getting a second helping is IKEA’s Easy to Assemble, which is currently prepping its second season with creator-star Illeana Douglas.