Yes, Cap'n Crunch is a kids' cereal. But it has another significant fan base—millennial males, who snack on the stuff at non-breakfast times, including late night, while playing video games, watching TV and doing other millennial-male stuff.
To reach this target, the Quaker brand worked with Funny Or Die over the past year to develop a branded entertainment series, whose theme embodies this breakfast staple's time-shifted target—it's about a morning show that takes place in the middle of the night.
The six-episode series stars Ben Schwartz (Parks and Rec, House of Lies) and Lauren Lapkus (Orange Is the New Black) as co-hosts of the fictional program, called The Earliest Show. Various celebrities appear as guests, including Reggie Miller, Reggie Watts, Thomas Middleditch, Jake Johnson, Jane Levy and Pedro Pascal.
The first episode debuted Oct. 27. The second breaks this morning. (You can watch it below on Adweek.com exclusively before it rolls out later today.) Four more will air in the coming weeks, along with two collections of outtakes.
Chris Bruss, president of digital at Funny Or Die, told Adweek that the process of creating The Earliest Show was unlike any branded content work FOD has produced in the past.
"The twist here, which really made this a bit of a curveball, is that [Cap'n Crunch] wanted some notable talent in it, but they didn't want to just go and develop an idea and a script and then cast a celebrity in the role," Bruss said. "They wanted us to get the main talent first, and then build the creative in partnership with them. We've never really done that for a brand before. It was much more like how we would make a TV show, frankly."
Indeed, much of the vision for the series came from Schwartz. He signed on for the project only after getting the greenlight to have the show focus on a concept he'd been kicking around on his own for a while—a comedy about a TV host who goes through a very public breakup on air.
"We framed up a core idea with Funny Or Die, but we really wanted the right creative talent to lend their voice to what this could be," said Jessica Spaulding, ready-to-eat cereal marketing director at Cap'n Crunch parent company Quaker. "We wanted to co-develop it and co-create it with them. It wasn't just about partnering with a really strong comedian. It was about somebody who could elevate the concept with their voice. Ben was such a natural, given who he's played in the past and who he naturally speaks to."
She added: "Once I spoke to Ben and heard his passion for the idea, it was a slam dunk that we would move forward with it."
The show's skits are high-energy and goofy, a kind of morning show on loopy steroids. The Cap'n Crunch integration isn't overwhelming but is prominent. The brand is worked into various show segments, notably including cooking tutorials, and is also featured during fake ad breaks at the halfway point of each episode. Because the show is meant to take place in the middle of the night, the ads are made to look like wacky infomercials.
"We didn't want it to be heavy handed, but we didn't want it to not appear at all, or to be like we were hiding the brand," Spaulding said of the product cameos. "We wanted to pick our places to have the ads in ways that felt natural to the humor. … Infomercials were a natural fit and a really funny way to continue the humor of the show."
Bruss adds: "We wanted the ads to be really funny, really brief, so you don't get taken out of the narrative."
Spaulding said she feels the approach has the potential to truly connect with the target in ways that typical brand sponsorships don't.
"As we started looking at who talks about our brand, and who really shows that love for our brand, it was these millennial males," she said. "They are a primary consumer of our cereal. And when we looked at how they were consuming it, and how they were talking about the product, it wasn't the typical 'around the breakfast table in the morning.' It was on the go, it was at night, it was while playing video games. It's really a part of their experience. From a media standpoint, we need to be part of that experience versus interrupting it."
She added: "What we really liked about [The Earliest Show] was that, versus starting with a tactic or a 30-second spot, it allowed us to put a platform at the center of our marketing program, and be a way for the brand to speak and add value to our consumer's life in an innovative and unique way. … We've dabbled in branded sponsorships in the past, but this isn't something we or Funny Or Die have done in the past. I think this is where content will be moving. Our consumers just read 'branded sponsorships' as more noise and interruption. We had to work hard to create an experience they would find value in, and that the brand could be an authentic part of."
Bruss said Schwartz being so central to the equation is innovative for the space.
"Hopefully this is going to turn some heads in advertising. It already has in the world of entertainment," he said. "It's almost like he sold a show. He sold a show to Funny Or Die and Cap'n Crunch. No one has ever really done that before. I've had a lot of phone calls from managers and agents and talent saying, 'I've got an idea. Is there something we can all work on together?' That's never been the case before."
How will Cap'n Crunch gauge the success of the series?
"We built KPI's into the media plan to ensure that we were investing in the right areas at the right levels, based on the typical measures of viewership and length of viewership," said Spaulding. "We felt that we all wanted skin in the game of this being successful, of reaching those key KPI's of impressions and length of viewership. They are slightly longer pieces of content, so we felt that was really important. And then we have our typical equity metrics as well."
Digital agency iCrossing is also involved in the campaign, and while not accountable for the creation of the series, is managing the cross-channel approach.