Lenovo Not Afraid to Make Fun of Itself in Native Content

Targets niche Onion, Reddit audiences with web series

Most computer tech companies don't want to damage their products, yet Lenovo is asking consumers to imagine creative ways to destroy its laptops. 

It partnered with Onion Labs, the satirical newspaper's native ad team, to create the fantasy football web series Tough Season, in which main character Brad Blevins plays a game called Computer Slap. It's exactly what it sounds like: He uses Lenovo Yoga laptops to destroy other computers. Then, playing into Reddit's geek culture, the computer tech company issued a challenge to members of the online community to create their own 8-bit versions of the Computer Slap game.

"We wanted something more than buying a banner ad," Bob Cordell, Lenovo's digital marketing manager, explained. "That's not what this group of people value."

There's something to be said about the fact that Lenovo doesn't seem to have a problem with making fun of itself. In the contest description, the brand let people know it's "totally cool" with people demolishing its tech. The result: People clearly know Lenovo is sponsoring the campaign, but they don't feel hit over the head with product placement.

"This is an opportunity to engage in the community and dip our toe in the water. We wanted to do something that was more natural with that community than straight-up advertising or some fake ads," Cordell said.

That same tongue-in-cheek attitude resonates throughout the Tough Season web series, which has a running gag in which the main character butchers the Lenovo brand name. The series stars real NFL players, including Chicago Bears' Matt Forte, Washington Redskins' Alfred Morris, Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck, Denver Broncos' Wes Welker, Cincinnati Bengals' A.J. Green and Green Bay Packers' Mason Crosby. And it blurs the line between fantasy football and reality.

The athletes—who play exaggerated versions of themselves—use their personal accounts to tweet and react to things as if they're really playing on the fictitious team, and the main character has a Twitter account that interacts with them as well. Because the story arch unfolds over several weeks, there's plenty of time for character development—and to poke fun at blatant product placement. 

"The Onion is so good at making things as real as humanly possible. This sort of bizarre connection between real and fantasy work together to make (the show) feel really powerful," Rick Hamann, svp of Onion Labs, said.

Not taking itself so seriously may be working for Lenovo. The first season had more than 13.5 million video views, with an average video completion rate of 62 percent per DigitasLBI, the agency behind the campaign. That's not to mention hundreds of thousands of social media impressions, and tens of thousands of social media engagements. Lenovo added that Season 2 has an even bigger focus on social and additional content, and it is on track to hit projections.