When Jaguar needed help learning how to be evil, there was only one logical place to turn: Gawker.
The famously acerbic blog network has been working with brands for years through its Studio@Gawker advertorial division, but this time the stakes were so large, a Bond villain would be envious. Gawker was being asked to prepare the digital lead-up to Jaguar's first Super Bowl ad, an ode to malicious megalomania themed "Good to Be Bad."
"The goal was to celebrate the dark brilliance of the villainous mind," said James Del, executive director of Studio@Gawker. "Villains are typically only written in a way that they're a foil for the protagonist, but the story's always been told from the perspective of the protagonist."
After creating the rough idea for "Good to Be Bad," Jaguar's creative agency, Spark 44, and media agency, Mindshare, realized that they would need another partner, one that could create a level of digital depth that would justify the brand's steep investment in a Super Bowl debut. The call went out to Gawker.
"It was kind of a dream scenario from our perspective," Del said. "Jaguar's media agency had approached us about potentially doing something big and different and based around content, so they sent us their creative brief."
Hunkering down like a comic book cabal bent on destroying Batman, the team of agencies and Gawker content strategists found a unifying hook that could bring the "Good to Be Bad" creative theme to life: Celebrate the villains.
The best evil geniuses always seem to have British accents, which seemed like a good enough brand connection for the iconic U.K. auto brand to own the idea of resplendent badness.
"It's their first shot at a Super Bowl ad," Del said. "They're a British company, obviously, so there was some discussion on our end about how do you represent something so British in something so American."
Being British wasn't the only strategic reason for Jaguar to revel in villainy, though. The creatives also noted how pop culture has tilted in recent years not just toward the anti-hero, but all the way to rooting for criminal masterminds.
"There's a real complexity now, and I credit shows like The Sopranos, The Wire and Breaking Bad," Del said. "It's no longer like the '60s shows where the bad guy is just doing bad things and you don't know why."
So once the Super Bowl ad concept was set—and teased through a spot placed in NFL games and on BBC America last November—Studio@Gawker's work truly began. The site network's content creators launched a blog for Good to Be Bad and began posting regularly about mildly devious life hacks like "How to comport yourself like a proper villain at holiday parties" (drink but don't eat, ignore co-workers and leave early after making an impression) and "How to wear a scarf like a proper villain" (wrapped around your neck and then tied in a low knot at the top of the chest).
The posts rack up roughly 5,000 to 35,000 impressions each, thanks almost exclusively to Gawker's ability to share the posts as sponsored content on any of its blogs through the network's proprietary Kinja publishing platform. "It's really easy for us to write a story on Good to Be Bad and then make it appear on the Gawker homepage or the Deadspin homepage," Del said.
Of course, pushing out branded content to your own editorial audiences can be a gamble. Bad content could spark backlash among readers and site editors alike, a fact of which Del's team is keenly aware.
"It's terrifying, but it's also really exciting. There's this misconception that advertising content just needs to be bad and interruptive, that it basically needs to surround the content that people actually want to consume," Del said. "Our position is that advertising doesn't have to be bad. It can be good. It can be interesting."
The real test for Studio@Gawker's role with Jaguar will be the reception of the team's original content, such as its "choir boys" stunt in mid-December, when a group of Victorian-dressed youths sang "I Fought the Law" in spontaneous performances around Manhattan. While not a viral sensation, the clip generated a respectable 72,000 YouTube views and 34,000 blog-page views.
The campaign will also feature digital projections on building facades in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and Jaguar will also have a presence at the Consumer Electronics Show being held this week in Las Vegas.
Since the Super Bowl itself will be most viewers' first exposure to the Good to Be Bad concept, Studio@Gawker plans to continue posting digital content for weeks after the game. However, the content calendar is not written in stone. Del said his team would watch to see how long audiences remain interested and then scale back the content creation if interest in the campaign begins to wane.
"A month, five months, a year, five years … it really depends on the reception to Good to Be Bad," Del said. "You just have to be ready for whatever the audience wants, just like in publishing. Don't stay on a story if no one cares about that story anymore. Just move on to the next story."