Nate Morley Creates Programming That Brings Teens to Brands

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Who: Nate Morley, senior copy writer at Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Deutsch Los Angeles

Why you need to know him: Mr. Morley has proved that he’s plugged into the youth market, creating popular branded entertainment concepts for Abercrombie & Fitch and Target. He is now developing ideas for Gap Inc.'s Old Navy.
'If you put cool stuff out there, kids will find it,' Nate Morley says.

Credentials: “I started at Abercrombie & Fitch as a copywriter. A few months in, I was asked to be one of the editors of the A&F Quarterly. A year or so later I pitched the idea for A&FTV [an online series for the retailer]. After shooting about 35 episodes of A&FTV, I moved to Minneapolis to work on Target at Peterson Milla Hooks. I recently came to L.A. and Deutsch," where he works on the Old Navy account.

What did you do for Abercrombie & Fitch? “At Abercrombie I produced and directed A&FTV, an online series built around the A&F brand. A&FTV wasn't scripted or staged. We took real employees from A&F stores around the country and hooked them up with athletes, musicians, artists and other interesting people. For example, one day a kid might be folding jeans at an A&F store in Michigan and the next day he's in Bishop, Calif., climbing with Chris Sharma, one of the best climbers in the world. One of the things I loved about A&FTV from a marketing perspective is that athletes who were sponsored by other apparel companies would appear on A&FTV. They wanted the exposure of a more mainstream audience, so we got them for free.”

How about for Target? “For Target we shot The Shaun White Series and The Aspen Series. The Shaun series is about 18 year-old snowboarder/skateboarder Shaun White. Shaun is sponsored by Target. And he also happens to be super funny, smart and entertaining. The 17-part series is about Shaun being Shaun -— skating at Tony Hawk's ramp, surfing with his girlfriend, rehabbing his injured knee, opening a new skate park, etc. It's access to an athlete that kids rarely see. The The Aspen Series takes place during the 2005 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo. Our home base was the Target Chalet, where Shaun White and his family stayed, but we also shot stuff like bombing for avalanches, Woody Creek Tavern, the Aspen AWOL event and other cool stuff. OddsAgainstSeven is yet another series from Target that will launch soon. I helped get that series under way before moving to L.A.”

What was the purpose of the projects? “Obviously, each program was designed to make kids more aware of the brand. And rather than making a commercial that ran on TV and hoping the right people saw it, this programming was designed to bring the kids to us.”

How were they distributed? Installments of A&FTV are broadcast on and in A&F stores. The seven Webisodes of The Shaun White Series appeared on and, created by Target, and bundled on a DVD that was sold in the retailer’s stores. Webisodes also played in stores.

What kind of results did they get for the companies? “Each episode of each series boosted interest in the company. We were surprised by feedback from kids who, for example, had no idea that a company like Target sponsored Shaun or that some A&F employee got to go wakeboarding with Parks Bonifay. The shows felt real and accessible. We wanted kids to be able to relate to the content and to aspire to what they were seeing at the same time. It seemed to work.”

A&FTV was pretty groundbreaking when it was launched. The BMW Films hadn't been made yet. Other companies weren't doing anything yet on the Web in terms of video. Why an online series? “I was writing an article on Tony Hawk for the A&F Quarterly. I had just spent the day with Tony, who also happened to be a guy I idolized growing up. I didn't feel that an article could fully capture everything that happened that day. I was thinking how cool it would have been to post video footage of the interview on the A&F Web site. A&FTV fell out of that idea. An online series was an opportunity to serve up the brand in a way that nobody else was doing.”

Abercrombie & Fitch and Target seem like they’re very forward-thinking companies. But getting your projects off the ground there still took some time. Why are companies still overly cautious when it comes to branded entertainment? “Companies are becoming more open to nontraditional marketing ideas every day. But even though they are more wiling to consider a nontraditional idea, they still want results. It can be difficult to quantify the results from a branded entertainment campaign.”

What are some obstacles people still face when getting a company to pull the trigger on a project? “Business is so competitive that some companies are tempted to stay too much within their comfort zone. It takes a good idea and a company with some confidence to really do something great.”

What companies would you say really 'get it' when it comes to reaching out and communicating with younger consumers? “Volcom, Scion, DC Shoes, Burton, Nike, Hollister, Altoids.”

How valuable can branded entertainment be for a brand? “It can be huge. Look at a project like BMW Films. When a company commits to it and does it in a way that's right for their brand, branded entertainment can be incredibly powerful. One of the other things I love about branded content is that it's very versatile. You can put it on a DVD to sell or give away as a promotion, use it at events or let people download it. It can be something that people want to hang on to, and from a branding perspective that’s pretty great.”

What are young customers looking for when it comes to a brand? What is cool? “Kids don't want to be told what is cool. They want to discover it. If you put cool stuff out there, kids will find it.”

What about when it comes to branded entertainment? What elements must be present? “It has to feel real ... not like reality show real, but legitimate. Anything that smacks of too much effort will get dismissed.”

What kind of branded-entertainment projects would you say have worked? “Anytime you talk about branded entertainment, you have to mention BMW Films. What they pulled off in production value, the talent involved and the commitment that BMW and Fallon made is impressive. The recent Amazon films were well done. There is a lot of good stuff out there.”

Which haven’t worked? “Anything too transparent with scripted wackiness. Anything ‘extreme.’”

Your brother Burke is also doing something similar, creating short films for Abercrombie’s Hollister brand. Seems like branded entertainment runs in the family. “Yeah, I guess it does. He's been doing a good job of helping Hollister establish some California roots.”

What's on your TiVo? “I'm a Pimp My Ride and Cribs junky. All the episodes of The Long Way Around are on there. NBA Rookies, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Plus, I have a two-year old daughter, so we watch a lot of Elmo.”

What's on your iPod? “The Helio Sequence, The Greenhorns, The Clientele, Black Star, The Sea & Cake, Stone Roses. Too many to mention.”

What do you do for fun? “Play Madden, make playlists and troll for cool podcasts. Wakeboarding, snowboarding and basketball. Have tea parties with my daughter.”
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