Take LonelyGirl, Ship Her to the U.K., Add Brands

Result: 'KateModern,' Online Show That Invites Marketers to Get Into the Drama

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"KateModern," an online drama from the makers of "LonelyGirl15," is already a whole cyber-generation ahead of predecessor Bree and friends.
'Modern' mates: The show's characters (from l.) Tariq, Kate, Charlie and Gavin.
'Modern' mates: The show's characters (from l.) Tariq, Kate, Charlie and Gavin.

The London-based show (the title is a play on the name of one of the city's art galleries, the Tate Modern) fully exploits the commercial opportunities of the internet, unlike Kate's more reserved forerunner, who found fame without sponsors in what now seems like a quaint, old-fashioned, unbranded world.

Microsoft Corp., Disney's Buena Vista International, France Telecom's Orange, plus Procter & Gamble's Gillette, Pantene and Tampax brands were all launch partners for "KateModern."

Backlash against backlash
Hewlett-Packard and Paramount also have signed up as sponsorship partners since the series began July 24 -- all a big contrast from "LonelyGirl15's" Thanksgiving episode, when branded items on the table were turned to face away from the camera because the show's producers thought the audience would disapprove of commercialism. In fact, there was a backlash against the backlash -- people liked Bree and wanted to know what brands she consumed and where she bought her clothes.

Three weeks into the show, Microsoft extended its partnership with Bebo, the U.K. social-networking site that hosts "KateModern" and premieres each episode (it is also shown on YouTube and LG15.com). "KateModern" is now available on MSN in the U.K., and Windows Live instant messaging has been integrated into the Bebo site.

In the first three weeks, "KateModern," a drama about a troubled young art student and her three closest friends, has registered 3 million views and is building an audience quickly -- the first episode was seen by just 23,000 people.

Audiences play an integral role in influencing the plot, and all the characters have their own social-networking profiles where they respond to e-mails and messages. Like "LonelyGirl15," "KateModern" integrates puzzles and clues into the storyline.

"KateModern" is being hailed as a new and sophisticated way for marketers to reach consumers via the internet. The product placement, for example, doesn't take itself too seriously: Disney's new movie, "Hallam Foe," is integrated into the drama's plotline via a cardboard cut-out of the lead character. One of Kate's friends, Gavin, fools around with it in his office, pretending to be Jamie Bell, the film's star.

Product placement opportunity
Mr. Bell also appears in person in an episode where one of Kate's friends runs away from him in a pub. It has been the most-watched episode so far, with 200,000 views. This is particularly significant in a country where product placement is still banned from TV.

Bebo's international-sales director, Mark Charkin, said, "With 'KateModern' we are trying to create a lot of dimensions for brands to relate to consumers. We can use the natural interactivity that is taking place as long as we do it well and remain authentic. It feels like we are defining the future."

For example, Gavin also downloads a "Hallam Foe" skin to his profile on Bebo, talks about the film on his own blog and links to the film's profile page.

Mike Jefferies, operations director at Tribal DDB, London, sees even bigger implications for show's success. "I like the way brand owners have got onboard. ... It's so bite-size and right for the platform," he said.
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