Amid Upfronts, Brands Experiment Online


Meet Simon, a laid-back groom who’s in way over his head in the world of wedding planning. And meet Rochelle, a budding bridezilla prone to shrieking meltdowns over flower arrangements. Watch these two head toward the Big Day, mockumentary style, and wackiness will no doubt ensue.

That’s the premise of a new series called Road to the Altar from MWG Entertainment, a Los Angeles digital production house that has gathered Pier 1 Imports, iRobot and Panda Express as brand integration partners and got semi well-known actors like Jaleel White (Urkel from Family Matters) and Leyna Weber (of Days of Our Lives) as stars. But don’t look for the show on any of the broadcast or cable networks. It’s available via YouTube, Joost, Sling and various mobile platforms.

The series is part of a burgeoning trend that has marketers partnering with Hollywood producers to embed their products into digital entertainment as a low-cost, low-risk addition to broadcast or cable. As the TV upfronts stall and ad budgets contract, marketers may increasingly turn to this kind of tailor-made entertainment that they can own, surround and promote.

For example, NBC Universal’s digital unit this winter presented a slate of in-development programs to advertisers, opening up those pieces of content early in the creative process to brand integration. So far, there’s a deal with Coca-Cola’s Nestea for placement in a short-form series called CTRL. More such alliances are in the works. Kraft’s Tassimo, Unilever’s Suave, AT&T and Procter & Gamble’s Tampax are stitched into online films that blur the line between selling and entertaining.

In some cases, such programs are drawing audiences on the scale of broadcast shows. Haute and Bothered, a Web series backed by LG Mobile and produced by Alloy Media + Marketing, has been viewed by 6 million people so far, and In the Motherhood, a Web series backed by Sprint Nextel and Unilever, racked up 17 million hits before hopping to TV as a short-lived sitcom. The yardstick used depends on the brand, but industry vets say that between 15 million and 20 million views for an eight-to-10 Webisode series is considered a hit.

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