The Sweet Hereafter

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For months, ad watchers have been, well, buzzing about an impending brand-driven shopping and entertainment hub from New York's Droga5 called Honeyshed. On October 24, most, if not all questions were answered as the new collaborative venture launched in beta form.

The site, created through a partnership between David Droga and his agency Droga5 and production company Smuggler, with funding from Publicis, seeks to engage 18-35 year old consumers with entertaining video content that the site's creators say "celebrates the sell." While Honeyshed isn't an e-commerce site, it seeks to promote and facilitate online shopping on behalf of multiple marketers by offering a "sexy, irreverent and fun," curated hub of brand information and culture.

The site was born from conversations going back two years between Smuggler co-founder/EP Patrick Milling Smith, director Brian Beletic, CAA creative director Jae Goodman (formerly of Publicis & Hal Riney), CAA's Jesse Coulter and Droga (who at the time was Publicis worldwide CCO). Beletic and Milling Smith had originally been mulling the prospect of a branded content channel—the germ of the idea, says Beletic, was a sort of "Home Shopping Network for young adults on TV"—and those musings led to a vision for an online destination that puts brands front and center and revels in the inherent entertainment of shopping.

Scene from The 'Shed
Scene from The 'Shed
"Everyone is scrambling to do branded content but for the most part there is no real home for it," says Droga. "Most of the time the strategy has been to create entertaining content and then seed it, put it on YouTube, or elsewhere. So content is king but the king didn't really have throne. Our idea was wouldn't it be brilliant to have a site where you could be overt about the brand. The site gets at the entertainment value and the sociability of shopping. "

On HS, says Milling Smith, "the star of branded content is the brand. People like to shop and when we started to talk about our demo and the types of products they're into we realized we could talk about these products openly and it was way more engaging and honest than hiding the product in a comedy skit."

The site's content is markedly different from standard online fare, be it brand backed web films or amusement-based sites—everything on the site is, as promised, designed to stimulate the shopping urge. And while Honeyshed shares some DNA with TV shopping channels as we know them, it's clearly its own species. Take, for example, slippers. While one can imagine a pair of overly rouged ladies of a certain age expounding on comfort and taking calls on QVC, Honeyshed's slipper shill is... a man under house arrest. "Who better to talk about slippers than someone who has to wear them all the time?" asks Beletic, who acts as Honeyshed's creative director and has been responsible for directing all of the video content to date. "The content is lifestyle oriented. You get some of the info you can find on a brand's site, but the real value (to Honeyshed) is there's a social currency to it. It's the way we talk about it; our tone and opinions and how we have fun with it."

Launch programming cycles through short segments devoted to a wide range of products—from a voice transformer and a Wii racing wheel to DVDs and games (Beletic was on a break from shooting a segment for Call of Duty 4 during his interview) to lip gloss and apparel (including, of course, disposable panties). All the stuff is touted by a series of young presenters, including Samantha and Rachelle, a blond and brunette duo who figure prominently in the site's initial offerings.

At launch, the site hosts about 30 shows (there are another 70 shows in the can) centered on product categories, like gadgets, beauty, denim and sneakers, that will be refreshed every few weeks. Visitors to the site will first be greeted with whatever video segment is streaming on the homepage at that time. Viewers can then choose to access specific videos in the site's archive by brand, category or host, engage in live chat and "stash" items in a shopping cart-like section. Clicking on items in the Stash section takes prospective buyers to the brand's own shopping site where the transaction takes place. Users can also send videos to friends and embed them in their own sites and social network pages. Back end work on the site was from Entriq and Schematic.

In its next phase, the site will host brand specific shows. Honeyshed's architects say brands have been enthusiastic about the site's model (a few marketers have already signed on for their own content blocks including D5 client Net10) but many are waiting to get a sense of site traffic and demographic before making a full programming commitment. A typical buy-in scenario would have the brand paying for production of an hour's worth of content, which would appear in several three-to-four minute episodes that would screen for three months. Droga says the media model for the site is transparent—marketers pay for views
and time spent and clicks through. "Our business model is engagement. Brands get to see who's looking at a video for the first time, who's a return viewer, what other brands people are navigating from and to—and the live chat. For better or worse it's like real time focus groups."

All video is being produced out of Honeyshed's own studio in L.A., which now has about 40-50 people working on content. "It's a living organism," Beletic says of the production hive which handles everything from casting to props to editing and effects. "The entire process goes in the front door and out the back. There are a lot of young creative people working here, and all of them could easily be doing something else. We all feel like we're starting something special."

The big question for many anticipating the site's launch has been what would compel a big enough audience of prospective shoppers to visit the site on a regular basis, and to stay on it. Droga calls it the "compound effect of brands coming together," comparing the site to a shopping district where a visitor knows the tone and direction of most of the stores. Milling Smith also points to the curatorial role of the site in attracting its sought after demographic—the site will be defined as much by what products aren't on it as those that are. "They'll come for a tone," he says, also pointing to the importance of the site's hosts and efforts to cast "presenters that people will start having a relationship with." There are currently six fulltime hosts, with another six to be added by year's end—cast for "attractiveness and likeability," says Milling Smith.

The initial phase one debut will be supported by a partnership with Facebook. There will be a major consumer launch in early December for which Droga5 is working on an integrated campaign (which puts Droga in the enviable— or nightmarish, depending on your point of view—position of being client and creative director. "Part of me is screaming, 'make it edgier;' part of me is screaming 'make the logo bigger'" he laughs).

While further details about syndication and how specific content will be pushed to viewers will be forthcoming at official launch, Milling Smith says the founders also wanted "to build a site where everything is potentially something you're interested in. So people are not just sticking to things they're comfortable with. We do that be earning their trust by being a filter and serving things up in a way that's exciting and palatable."

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