AT&T has very sneakily, and very keenly, become a brand beloved by those vexing and hard to reach millennials.
AT&T's Hello Lab was announced this year and partnered with its Fullscreen Media to create original and thoroughly specialized series with top social influencers, working with them to create projects and series they'd been dying to do but hadn't been able to yet.
There's the YouTube travel series with Damon and Jo, who ask their fans to dare them to have unknown experiences in different cities. And there's actress and vlogger Grace Helbig who collaborated with her fans to write a novella one chapter at a time, then staged a reading of the performance at VidCon. And there's, Amymarie Gaertner, a choreographer and dancer, who became a personal choreographer for her fans via Instagram.
"We wanted to find new levels of engagement and to help creators develop these stories that live on their own platforms, not ours," said Valeria Vargas, vp of advertising and marketing communications at AT&T. "Our branding was worked into the various series in a subtle and effective way."
Bryan Thoensen, svp of the Fullscreen Strategic Content Group, explained to Adweek that in order to be paired with the Hello Lab program, influencers had to meet three criteria: "They had to be innovating a genre, express a genuine desire to connect with their audience in a deeper way, and have the entrepreneurial drive to really put in the work with us," he said.
Vargas said all 10 of the series combine entertaining stories with "the power of a mobile connection."
"It was already great storytelling by themselves, but the audience could explore them deeper on their phones," she said.
The latest series from the band Us the Duo debuted this week in the form of a 10-part visual EP in which the band crowdsourced stories from its fans about life, love, struggles and joy.
"Their channels and audience were clamoring for something different or new, with a new wrinkle or tweak in what they already come to them for," said Thoensen. "We had a lot of fun building this yearlong project with an 'entertainment-first' approach to each show, and innately mirroring how young people consume content today by using social platforms to bring the audience closer."
In a series called The Disappearing Girl, social media star and magician Collins Key starts his fans on a social media scavenger hunt to help him find a mystery girl who was at a Hello Lab meetup.
In 72 hours, that video received more than 1.7 million views. Fans immediately took charge to try and find clues across Instagram and other platforms, while keeping up with Key's video updates throughout the series.
AT&T, which is an owner of Fullscreen through its investment in Otter Media, kept overt messaging to a minimum. And that's paying off.
"We've seen a huge positive impact on brand metrics after fans engaged with Hello Lab content this year," said Vargas, "and people are more likely to name AT&T first for brand awareness. They've also begun to see us as more innovative and as a brand they might actually use."