The Road to Brandweek: Hulu's Ryan Crosby Preps for the Streaming Wars

The streaming service encourages 'thoughtful risk-taking'

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Hulu is prepared to hold its own in the streaming wars, and taking marketing risks will be the key, according to Ryan Crosby, Hulu’s vice president of brand and content marketing.

Crosby, who worked on crafting the streaming service’s buzzy 2019 Super Bowl spot and its ongoing Hulu Sellouts campaign, is hosting a breakout session about innovation and risk-taking—and learning from mistakes—at Adweek’s annual Brandweek event, coming up Nov. 3-6 in Palm Springs, Calif.

Ahead of Brandweek, we spoke with Crosby about the state of the industry and what’s in his streaming queue.

Give us a sneak peek into what you’ll be talking about at your Brandweek session.
I’m excited to be at Brandweek hosting a breakout session on Inspiring a Culture of Innovation. At Hulu, we’re really proud of the culture of empowerment, risk-taking and reward that we’ve built over the last couple of years. It’s enabled us to break through in a space of increased competition for consumer’ time and attention. The goal of the session is to share our learnings and successes from building a culture that allows for people to try different things, innovate, learn from their mistakes and experiment with big risks that yield big rewards.

Why do you think a culture of risk, reward and innovation is necessary for marketers?
Any marketer can follow the charted course and do the expected. However, in my experience the biggest gains for brands come from challenging the status quo or doing something that raises a few eyebrows and draws some attention. In an innovative culture, risk-taking is encouraged when done in a smart, calculated way. We encourage marketers at Hulu to evaluate the potential upside and downside of the risks they take. In our experience, calculated risk can help break through, get people talking and win the hearts and minds of consumers. We encourage thoughtful risk-taking.

What big risks have you tried to take since you got to Hulu, and what lessons have you learned from those risks?
The first that comes to mind is the 2019 Super Bowl spot that was as a teaser for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3. The spot references Ronald Reagan’s iconic “Morning in America” commercial to set up the storyline for Season 3 and implores America to “wake up.” The spot had political undertones in a Super Bowl where brands largely stayed away from the topic. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but we felt that leaning into the subject matter was true to the show’s brand and courted controversy in the right way.

Secondly, our most recent live sports campaign, Hulu Sellouts, was a calculated risk for us. We bucked the sports marketing trend of doing a traditional league partnership or typical brand logo placement and partnered directly the athletes as social media influencers. We flipped the influencer trend on its head and didn’t try to hide our partnership with the athletes. Instead, we thought it would be more authentic to be honest about the fact that Hulu paid them handsomely to tell the world that we have live sports. We broke the rules a bit with this campaign, but the risk has been worth the reward.

What’s the biggest change Hulu has had to contend with over the last two years, and how has your marketing strategy evolved in respose to it?
It’s no secret that entertainment and the way people watch TV is changing. And the streaming space is increasingly competitive both on the streaming video-on-demand side, but also on the live TV streaming side. Our marketing has to stay ahead of where consumers are going in the future for their entertainment, and how Hulu fits into that experience. We lean into our differentiators—you can watch our exclusive originals, next-day television, full library of hit shows and films on Hulu with or without ads, or you can watch live TV for sports and news. We’re really proud of the choice, flexibility and control that we offer customers.

What other streaming services do you subscribe to and what are you watching right now?
I subscribe to Netflix in addition to Hulu, and that’s where I’m currently watching Peaky Blinders. Recently, my wife and I have been bingeing Season 2 of Castle Rock — which is great, by the way!