NEW YORK -- "In the Motherhood," a just-announced series of webisodes created by MindShare Entertainment for Sprint and Unilever that will air over the next few months, will try to take both branded entertainment and user-generated content to another level just as consumers' appetite for video on demand grows.
The five-episode web series follows Kim, played by Leah Remini, who's coming off her nine-year run on the CBS hit comedy "King of Queens," and her two friends, Heather and Maria. Their escapades as busy moms and wives are based on stories submitted by consumers at InTheMotherhood.com that are then selected for development and worked into a webisode script by Hollywood writers and directed by TV director Peter Lauer ("Malcolm in the Middle").
The website invites moms to share experiences such as their child's worst public meltdown or their funniest mother-in-law child-rearing advice.
Taking UGC to a new level
"Consumer-generated content is usually created by consumers and put on the web," said David Lang, managing partner, MindShare Entertainment, who was the primary architect of the deal. "We've taken it to a new level by marrying moms' stories with professional screenwriters and top-name talent."
Moms can participate in the story-selection process by voting for their favorite submissions online.
Mr. Lang collaborated closely with Margaret Clerkin, CEO of MindShare Interaction North America, to build "In the Motherhood" as an online community on MSN featuring entertainment content.
"Our clients Sprint and Unilever told us they wanted to build a better connection with moms. Our research told us that moms spend a lot of time online," Ms. Clerkin said. "So that's where we need to be."
Developing an online community
Another goal, besides keeping moms entertained, was to develop an online community that offered the sort of support system of days gone by when moms chatted over backyard fences.
"Our research showed that the internet -- and online sites and communities -- is today's version of over-the-fence relationships. We wanted to tap into it, and offer moms something funny and empowering," Ms. Clerkin said.
One of the benefits of video and web as media channels is the ability to track viewer activity. Moms who participate in the community must register online, which entails handing over some personal data such as e-mail addresses. And as with any online advertising program, the marketers analyze the connection between the program's life and retail sales; they also get details on participants' online activities.
For Unilever's Suave, which is a financial partner in the project and owns the rights with Sprint to the creative content, the "effort is really about helping to forge an emotional connection with our mom target -- showing her that we understand and appreciate her life, both as a mom and as a woman," Unilever spokeswoman Heather Mitchell said.
Suave products integrated into episodes
Suave products will be integrated into the webisodes. One of characters, Heather -- described on the site as a divorced, working mom who peaked too soon in her younger days and now can't believe how her life has turned out -- is based on a Suave consumer, Ms. Mitchell said. "She knows it's important not to forget herself in the bottom of the laundry basket and to put herself on the to-do list once in a while."
Sprint will use the webisodes to promote Sprint TV, Sprint Navigation service, the Sprint Music Store and its pricing plans. Because viewers can watch the webisodes using Sprint TV, a service that allows mobile customers to access content on Sprint Power Vision phones, the wireless carrier also is a distribution partner. A spokesman wouldn't comment on how much the company paid for its involvement, saying only, "We've dedicated significant time and effort to making 'Motherhood' a success."
"In the Motherhood," which launched April 17 on MSN and runs thorough June, took almost a year to produce. Bringing together the deal's many components -- crafting brand messages and positions for Suave and Sprint; working in the "Ellen DeGeneres Show," which will air clips of the five websides; and teaming with Hollywood directors and screenwriters -- was like a "three-dimensional puzzle," said Mr. Lang, whose other branded-entertainment credits include creating webisodes starring Felicity Huffman of "Desperate Housewives" to promote Dove's Calming Nights.
"We wanted to make the experience as rich as possible to get people to engage," Ms. Clerkin said.