The Pepsi brand has partnered with the male-targeted cable network for the largest initiative in Spike's "Men of Action" branded- entertainment spots to date with a six-week "mini micro-series" called "Get Moe" that kicks off this week.
'Bourne' for the college set
In the spots, the title character, Moe, is a Jason Bourne-esque action hero for the college-aged Spike set who finds new uses for his six pack of Mountain Dew in each segment. In "Bodega," it's a weapon for fending off street thugs; in "Skylight," it's a means for hopping rooftops in a single leap -- and making nice to a girl in her underwear.
The "Get Moe" series follows in the footsteps of similar co-branded spots to air on the network from marketers such as Domino's Pizza, Dunkin Donuts and even Lamisil foot cream.
Such network-specific branded initiatives have become a regular part of the MTV stable in recent years, particularly as commercial ratings and the "C3" currency (for viewers who watch digitally recorded programs up to three days after their initial air date) have given extra weight to keeping viewers engaged during commercial breaks. Nielsen's first round of commercial-ratings data last month placed the MTV entertainment networks at the bottom rung of the cable ladder, with Spike faring slightly better than siblings MTV and VH1. As a result, the network has begun looking to program its commercial pods just as aggressively as it does the rest of its schedule.
Building ad-break retention
"Basically, all guns are blazing on how we can build retention into our breaks," said Niels Schuurmans, Spike's senior VP-consumer marketing and creative. "Industry-wide, we've really made it a focus to do it in a really bold way."
For Spike, that involves offering pod buyouts to advertisers such as Mountain Dew and crafting "catch and pitch" strategies with marketing messages to tease viewers throughout multiple breaks. It also means looking for advertisers with like-minded creative goals.
Dario Spina, senior VP-integrated marketing for MTV Networks Entertainment Group, said Mountain Dew was the first brand he approached for the new partnership because of the brand's history of creating action-themed ads on its own. Frank Cooper, Pepsi's VP-marketing for carbonated soft-drink flavors, responded immediately and favorably to the idea of creating action-oriented entertainment with "the raw sensibility that came out of the 'Bourne' series, and from the brand's perspective, was also trying to add value to the viewing experience."
It's a unique play for commercial-break engagement from a brand that has spent an increasing amount of dollars in branded entertainment and digital media. Last week, Mountain Dew unveiled DEWmocracy, a user-generated online and retail initiative to create the look and marketing for the next Mountain Dew, with a video component featuring actor-director Forest Whitaker. Mr. Cooper said the success metrics for these experimental marketing efforts takes a back seat to "just being in the cultural currency itself. There's a lot of roadkill out there and people are getting hurt along the way. You have to be willing to fail in order to learn because this space is changing so quickly."
Creating a dialogue
Scale and reach are also not a top priority for these new projects, he added. "Even if it's with a smaller group of people, if there's a dialogue around the experience that leads to a better experience with the brand, then we're successful."
Looking at C3 data and the gradual decline of the 30-second spot as the go-to reach mechanism, Mr. Cooper also feels confident that Pepsi's own findings within its branded-entertainment work have proved more fruitful than anything Nielsen can deliver.
"C3 and some of the neuroscience movements are all pointing at the same thing: Measurement tools have not caught up with where the consumer is moving. We know we're going to be operating in spaces where the measurement is not exactly scientific, and we're willing to take that risk and take it in part because we know that's where the culture's moving."
He added that TV "still gives people a level of comfort," but it was very difficult to see that being the priority for launching media campaigns in the near future. "We try not to think of 30-second spots vs. online activity vs. a grassroots marketing campaign. We look for what cultural places we're playing in and how do we take off from there. We want to isolate the mediums that kind of formally control the way in which we actually conceptualize the development of an idea but also the way in which we execute them."
However, Mr. Cooper is still looking for a classic form of ad engagement after the first body slam has been rendered on "TNA Impact" -- even if it means paying extra. "It's becoming increasingly difficult for those in the best form to break through," he said. "Now we have 45 seconds to put forth an idea with five or six more ideas to put forth a whole story arc outside that traditional model."