LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Rather than retrofit its product into an existing or original entertainment properties, razor marketer Schick is creating its own brand-first web production called "Clean Break."
The action-sports series, created by Schick and brand studio Content & Co., is being distributed by Sony Pictures Television's Crackle.com starting this week. The property's inverse business model began with the company's desire to associate its new Schick Hydro with the key sports that, like its razors, deliver "unexpected hydration."
From there, the brand tapped two upcoming athletes aged squarely in its key demo of young males to lead a series of destinations for sports along the Pacific Coast, including kite-boarding, surfing and skateboarding.
They then partnered with brother-sister branded-entertainment directors "The Sibs" to create a look and storyline for an online series that could evoke classic surfing documentaries such as "Endless Summer."
Stuart McLean, CEO at Content & Co., who most recently served as co-president of JWT's branded-entertainment arm, argues that taking a branded series to a distributor like Sony creates a balanced model that keeps all parties happy. "It's not weighted in anyone's favor," he said. "If we do our job right, everybody benefits -- it elevates both brands."
Rolling lifestyle into product
Although Schick will not be directly integrated into the series, the brand will receive exclusive pre-roll and display inventory surrounding the "Clean Break" webisodes to reinforce its sponsorship even when the product is not visible during the actual show.
"They key thing to me is the sports fan watches this and says, 'Schick gets me,'" said Brad Harrison , North American group marketing director. "It's not about shaving; it's about this lifestyle being rolled into that product."
The brand-funded pilot model also benefits the digital studios that continue to crop up to produce and distribute this new wave of content even as previous studios such as ABC's Stage 9, Turner's Super Deluxe and United Talent Agency's 60 Frames all fell by the wayside after producing expensive projects with little or no brand support. That's why Amy Carney, Sony Pictures Television's president of ad sales, said "Clean Break" relieved the Crackle team from the frequently "cumbersome" process of trying to find sponsors for web series after they've been scripted or have produced a pilot.
"You have to go through a lot of meetings to find that perfect bull's-eye," she said. "But it still comes down to the quality of the content. If an advertiser can be attached to a deal, that's great. But do we think it's a great fit for Crackle, or something a Crackle viewer would want to see?"
Content & Co. is taking a similar approach to its next project, pairing fast-food giant Subway with the University of Southern California Film School for an original web-series competition. The chain recently received 21 submissions from USC students, with a winner to be announced in fourth quarter for a shot at Subway-funded online distribution, potential film festival screenings and likely in-store promotion. Much like the chain's integrated sponsorships of NBC's "Chuck" and "The Biggest Loser," the relationship with USC represents a broader approach to entertainment marketing that leverages Subway's own global real estate of 35,000 locations worldwide as their own media channels.
"It's not enough for a media partner to say, 'I know I can get you 6 million people with this,'" said Tony Pace, Subway's chief marketing officer. "That's great. I have 30 million people at my stores each week. Maybe if I can get point-of-purchase materials, we can help you."
And as brands develop more direct relationships with content partners through studios like Mr. McLean's, whither the ad agency? In the case of "Clean Break," four different agency partners helped orchestrate the deal and storyline, including creative agency JWT.
In other cases, however, like the Subway-USC partnership, the clients are going directly to their media partners, with Mr. McLean on hand as the mediator between the two parties.
Bob Jeffrey, CEO of JWT and Mr. McLean's former boss, said although Content & Co. is ultimately competitive with the creative-agency business, the potential for partnership remains when the projects are an extension of a client's traditional campaigns. "The business has evolved where we are both competitive and collaborative, based on the opportunity," he said.
"Companies like Content & Co. reinforce our position that brands need to be storytellers and engaging with consumers in new ways."