The result: The online series has reached 3 million viewers since its debut in April.
|Evan Mann and Gareth Reynolds chased women and promoted Axe in a cross-country tour that they documented in Webisodes that have drawn millions of viewers.
Unilever’s Evan and Gareth didn’t need a TV network to launch a reality show with a cult following, as the recently concluded 144-day, 10-city journey by the pair of underemployed Hollywood writers for Axe deodorant and body wash reached an estimated 3 million viewers.
The duo’s journey, the brainchild of entertainment and brand-marketing agency Conductor, Los Angeles, which is also handling the re-launch of the NHL, combined elements of reality TV, video-on-demand, viral films, blogs and old-fashioned event marketing to attract an audience.
Writers Evan Mann and Gareth Reynolds, who had previously collaborated with Conductor on other projects without ever getting in front of the camera, undertook a “mojo quest” for Axe in April, in which they honed their seduction skills everywhere from bars to Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium to a Los Angeles-area Wal-Mart.
Via WPP Group’s MindShare, New York, Axe syndicated its branded-entertainment series as paid placements on such entertainment Web sites as ComedyCentral.com, Heavy.com, AtomFilms.com and gaming networking site Xfire, as well as in Unilever’s own Mojo Master advergame by online game creator WildTangent. Axe’s own Web site, Evanandgareth.com, served as a launching pad for viral distribution of the series, 90 seconds or so at a time.
Despite advertising arrangements with other sites, visitors’ downloads were voluntary.
“I think we’ve really realized that creating content consumers want to seek out rather than pushing them out stuff they really don’t want to see is the way to go,” said Kevin George, marketing director-deodorants at Unilever. “We will absolutely continue to do more of this kind of thing, and not because it’s cool or because the technology is there, but because this is what our guy likes. The number of people watching the videos was much better than expected.”
Though most downloads were to personal computers, about 25,000 were to Sony PlayStation Portable, or PSPs.
“It’s been amazing how valuable video content is when you have the technology that can allow it to live and breath in a lot of different places,” Mr. George said.
Evan and Gareth also rated coverage on the entertainment news magazine Extra, four-page spreads two months running in lad mag FHM, and a 15-minute interview on the gaming network G4.
When they listed themselves on social-networking site MySpace.com, the duo had 10,000 friends within a month. On Xfire, a networking site for gamers, 11,000 guys downloaded the first Evan and Gareth video in an hour. More than a month after the two ended their journey, two of their videos still ranked as the most downloaded ever on the site.
The brand integration of Evan and Gareth somehow manage to be both obvious from the outset and blend into the background as the pair set out on a series of goofy adventures after a meeting with an Axe brand team that included Mr. George. Most of the short films, however, subsequently never mention Axe, while some focus on the brand extensively.
At varying points on their journey, Evan and Gareth take their cinema verite schtick to a Wal-Mart, along with the Axe Angels sampling team; Axe’s party at the “Young Hollywood Awards” in May; and an Axe event on the campus of Louisiana State University, where the Angels wash them with Axe body spray and hose them down.
Most of story, however, revolves around the pair talking with women, trying out and diagramming “play book” versions of wretched pickup lines, and chronicling their fantasy, abortive or sometimes briefly successful romances.
In all, Evan and Gareth via producer/director Evan Charnoff, generated nearly 3,200 hours of film, only a fraction of which has been shown so far. They generated enough content for each of the entertainment sites showing the program to have unique content.
“All of this can be repackaged into DVDs, all of it linking this core essence of the brand into the entertainment,” Mr. George said.
Further distribution possibilities include DVDs via Axe bonus packs, which the brand already has done with music CDs in holiday promotions with Target and other retailers, or possibly a TV program.
“Axe is the only brand that can bring this to you, because it’s about two guys going out to meet girls in a very tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top way,” Mr. George said.
But he thinks the approach can be duplicated in other ways for other brands, and that, indeed, it already has been. He noted that Pepsi recently sent two guys off to attend 100 concerts in 100 days as they upload videos and blog entries.
“We’re a bit flattered by that,” Mr. George said.