How CNN’s Branded-Content Studio and Modelo Celebrated Diversity in the American Heartland

Courageous wins Arc Award for Best Nonfiction Series (Digital)

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At their best, marketing campaigns define a brand, inspire consumers and, yes, sell things. But sometimes, they become so much more than that—like a reflection of who we really are, for better or worse.

The Mexican beer brand Modelo had dramatically grown its business in the U.S. over the last few decades and sought to drive brand awareness while telling the story of a community here that had come together despite its differences during a time of much-publicized racial and cultural division.

The place that was chosen to spotlight: Garden City, Kan., population 30,000, a town where more than a dozen languages are spoken, where diversity is seen as a strength and that "represents the best vision for the future of America."

The resulting campaign, "Fighting for Better," was a five-part web series, produced by CNN's branded-content arm Courageous Studio and featured under its Great Big Story video network. Modelo's creative agency, Ogilvy & Mather Chicago, came up with the idea for the campaign, while media shop Horizon Media connected Modelo and Ogilvy with Great Big Story.

To create the series, members of the Courageous team spent a month in Garden City, getting to know its residents, digging for stories that fit with Modelo's message. The summer was spent producing the series, which launched in September.

"Modelo has been fighting for better since 1925, growing from a little beer in Tacuba, Mexico City, to become the fastest-growing beer in America," says Ann Legan, vp, brand marketing for Modelo. "As a result, we proudly believe it doesn't matter where you come from; it matters what you're made of. Nowhere is that more true than in Garden City, a diverse place of people fighting for better, too. We wanted to celebrate the shared values between the brand and the people of Garden City and show how with a fighting spirit and the desire to persevere through adversity, great things can happen."

"One of the things [Modelo] wanted to do was, looking at the divisive conversations, something that was completely the opposite," says David Spiegel, svp of sales and brand strategy for Great Big Story. "Where the world around them was zigging, how could they zag?"

The series underscores how, no matter where we come from, we all want the same basic things. One installment, titled "Where Cowboys Are More Than Herdsman," featured two men—one Mexican, one American—sharing stories of how they moved to Garden City for more opportunity, learning after they got there that "a united world is better for everyone."

The results of the campaign went far beyond the expectations of Modelo, which had hoped for at least 1 million views. To date, the series has been seen 4.6 million times and inspired 50,000 social engagements.

But as it turned out, that wasn't the end of the story of Garden City, or Modelo's connection to it. In October, the town would find itself at the center of a major news story when the FBI revealed it had foiled a terrorist plot to bomb an apartment building that's home to many Somali immigrants and a mosque featured in the series.

Modelo and the Courageous team knew they had to address an event that affected a group of people they had come to know so well. "What we thought of was that we're not going to merchandise the news, but we have to be aware," explains Spiegel.

So, a sixth video was created by Courageous as a tribute to the people of Garden City—a moving and inspiring two-minute piece urging perseverance.

Ultimately, "Fight for Better" demonstrated how Modelo and its customers were both "built from the fighting spirit," says Legan. "To truly extend that emotion and brand equity in an authentic way, we knew we couldn't just talk about the fighting spirit. We needed to actually show and celebrate the people who were living it."

This story first appeared in the January 16, 2017 issue of Adweek magazine.

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@KristinaMonllos Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.