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With 'Breakthrough' TV Series, GE Looks to Boost Brand Awareness Globally

Investment Further Establishes Content as Key Part of Marketing Strategy

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Linda Boff
Linda Boff
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Last week at the Upfronts event in New York, GE announced plans to produce a new TV series called "Breakthrough," which will begin running on the National Geographic Channel in November.

GE is partnering with award-winning producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer at Imagine Entertainment, as well as producers at Asylum Entertainment, on the six-part documentary series, which will highlight science and technology innovations.

The series is the latest effort by GE to move more deeply into content as a key part of its marketing strategy. Over the last year, GE has sponsored a recurring segment on "The Tonight Show" called "Fallonventions," which showcases inventions by kids. It worked with Vice Media's in-house creative agency Virtue Worldwide on a nine-part digital video series titled "The Invention Factory" for GE's YouTube channel. And it partnered with filmmakers Gavin Free and Daniel Gruchy -- producers of "The Slow Mo Guys" web series -- to show off science inventions on GE's YouTube channel. GE did not disclose the budget for the "Breakthrough" series.

In the following interview, Linda Boff, executive director-global brand marketing at GE, talks about how the new TV series fits into GE's content strategy and how the company will measure its success.

Advertising Age: What is the goal of the TV series?

Ms. Boff: We are a brand that has stood for technology and innovation breakthrough for nearly 135 years, and we have tried to connect media and content to that strategy and communicate the magic of science. We want to do this on as many platforms and in as many ways as we possibly can -- partnering with some of the world's best storytellers, who can translate the wonder and imagination of science into great stories.

Ad Age: Who is the target audience?

Ms. Boff: People who are really curious and who share our love of science and technology and are interested in what's next. There is absolutely a business audience -- this series will tackle topics that have deep, far-reaching implications for energy, water issues, longevity, brain science, pandemics and cyborg technology.

Ad Age: How do you plan to measure ROI on this?

Ms. Boff: GE is in 170-plus countries and NatGeo is in 170-plus countries, so this will be able to work on a global scale for our brand. One KPI (key performance indicator) is moving the needle when it comes to brand awareness and familiarity with GE and what we are really about among a global audience. We will also look at KPIs including share-of-mind and share-of-voice as a company.

Ad Age: Are you shifting more of your ad dollars to branded entertainment?

Ms. Boff: I would avoid calling it branded entertainment. What we're trying to do is create great stories -- not great stories about GE, but great stories that the world needs to know. Sometimes 'branded entertainment' feels advertorial -- it's secondary to really good content.

We have shifted considerably over the last three to four years into new channels such as digital and mobile, because it mirrors where the world has shifted. We are still very supportive of TV, and we will still create programming for TV. We try to go where the people are, where we can provide interesting, compelling, infectious content in a way that is indigenous.

Ad Age: How have some of your past content efforts informed your decision to invest in this type of programming?

Ms. Boff: It's something we have really thought about. When we partner with great storytellers and allow them -- them being great partners like Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, great partners like Vice, and YouTube creators like the 'Slow Mo Guys' -- we allow them to cast their fresh lens and their eye on science and technology. We love the storytelling that comes from this. It is a privilege to work with people like Ron, Brian and Angela Bassett [who will direct one of the episodes of 'Breakthrough'] and to see the world through their lens.

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