Why the Latest Piece of Content Marketing From Enterprise Rent-a-Car Is a Movie About Hockey

The Road Through Warroad: Hockeytown USA airs on NBC Sports Network tonight

Warroad, Minn., (population: 1,778) has produced over 80 Division I hockey players, five NHL players and seven Olympians. Enterprise Rent-A-Car
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If you happen to find yourself in Warroad, Minn., and need to rent a car from Enterprise, we have bad news: There’s no pick-up location anywhere near the place. That said, there’s a great deal of Enterprise Rent-a-Car in the heart and soul of the tiny Midwestern town, as NBC Sports Network viewers will find out this evening.

The 60-year-old car rental brand has put its money and its name behind a new documentary called The Road Through Warroad: Hockeytown USA, which will air at midnight eastern (9 p.m. Pacific time). Cannonball, Enterprise’s creative agency of record, produced the film.

As the title makes plain, this is a full-length show about hockey. Specifically, it’s about how Warroad, this speck of a town six miles below the Canadian border, has bred more professional hockey players than basically anyplace you can name. Despite its small size (population: 1,778), Warroad has given America over 80 Division I players, five NHL players and seven Olympians. In fact, no Olympic men’s hockey team has ever won gold without a player from Warroad.

Which is fascinating, of course, though it doesn’t quite answer the question: What does any of this have to do with renting a car?

Well, nothing really—and plenty. Late last year, Enterprise redirected its brand positioning to become a total-transportation-solutions company (more on that below). As part of that strategy, Enterprise also shifted its marketing energies to producing content. It began with Pursuits with Enterprise, a digital magazine heavy on travel and destination topics (which makes sense, since you need a car to do that stuff). Now that content strategy has expanded into film, though the thematic link to cars is far less apparent. Actually, it’s not really there.

As Enterprise’s vp of North American marketing Lee Broughton explains, the days are gone when a brand like his could get away with making a direct pitch about workaday stuff like Enterprise’s friendly service or its choice of midsize sedans. “The brand ideal [now] is to create emotional connections,” Broughton said. “You don’t just want to know [a brand] to purchase it, you want to experience it. This content does precisely that.”

Enterprise has already been an official sponsor of the NHL for seven years, so there’s already a link between sport and brand. Even so, a 30-minute documentary is notable, even in the annals of content marketing. Why not just make a short video and stick it on YouTube?

That’s sort of how the idea got started. “We didn’t set out to create a documentary,” Broughton said. Originally, Enterprise had a four-minute short in mind. But as the creative team sorted through all of the footage, it concluded that the human stories were so good that longer form was in order. “We found there was so much more to the story viewers would love to see,” is how Cannonball CCO Steve Hunt put it in a prepared statement.

“We were sitting on something that was more than a snackable piece of scroll-through,” Broughton explained. Besides, he added, “content for content’s sake isn’t going to find its way into anyone’s heart and mind.”

What’s driving Enterprise’s shift to a content-marketing strategy in the first place? Broughton won’t accede to the suggestion that app-driven ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft are cutting into the traditional car rental segment. (In fact, last October, Enterprise Holdings revealed that its revenues from airport rentals were up 10 percent in 2015.) Even so, it’s probably no coincidence that Enterprise has fully diversified to offer car sharing and ride sharing. These days, it even sells cars. “We’re transcending the category of car rental,” Broughton said.

As of today, the company has transcended further—into a kind of arts patron, almost. But alas, the connection to possible transactions is never far off. “It’s a natural extension to develop a group of 40 million NHL fans and ice hockey lovers,” Broughton said, “into customers of ours.”

@UpperEastRob robert.klara@adweek.com Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.