In a phone interview on Thursday, Ad Age spoke with Mr. Holleran
from A-B InBev about how the marketer's products came to be placed
in "House of Cards" and how his team measures the value of those
Many people think Netflix is closed off to advertisers.
How did you find out this opportunity existed?
It's primarily through the early stages of script reading. You
get a film, a digital series, a TV series, and you get in early
with either a production company or studio that's on the producer
level of the project and try to align with them. It comes from just
experience from past projects. Basically you've got relationships
built up, and then you can read a script and see if your brand
objectives align with the genre or the idealism of the program that
you're reading. You see some synergy there and if there's an
opportunity, you work from the ground floor. You send them product,
and then you send them the appropriate scene that you want your
product in. And if the prop masters, set decorators, production and
ultimately the director on the project likes that brand sitting in
there, the parent, which is Netflix, really doesn't have a whole
lot of say because it's done through the creative side of the
business. And there's not a fee involved.
So no money changes hands? It's just a matter of
someone's drinking a beer in this scene and here's a beer they can
Well, it's not as simple as that. We analyze the script, and we
have a scorecard that I break down for every script, whether it's
an episode on a TV show or a movie. Even like "The Dark Knight,"
we'll go over to Warner Bros. and read the script. We have 14
different criteria, some qualitative, a little bit quantitative
too: the right storyline, the right scene, character, star power
within the show like Kevin Spacey. We had a past relationship with
him through [the website for Mr. Spacey's company Trigger Street
Productions], which we sponsored for years. We knew that he may
like to work with us on a project like "House of Cards." But it's
also the social responsibility involved, the historic value of the
show, are there opportunities within promotional elements with one
of our customers to do an above-the-line promotion with Ralph's
grocery story or 7-11 or Hooters? So there are a bunch of different
elements that we look at. But as far as fees, no. A lot of time
it's just the point-of-sale, which is signage and stuff that can be
used as set [decorations]. And then there's actual beer and just
sending the beer to the right place where they're filming the movie
or TV show.
So you're reading these scripts. Did it pop out to you
that this is Netflix, this is a place where brands can't normally
play? And did that influence your interest?
Absolutely. You look at the trends in the marketplace. When
"House of Cards" season one came along, we got some copies of the
scripts early on. So we're like, "Hey, let's just send them some
beer. This has an opportunity to probably be a pretty good digital
series." And we were kind of lucky on that, just noticing that this
potentially could be something big. We read it. We liked the
storyline. And we liked the way it aligned with one of our
higher-end brands such as Stella Artois. A sophisticated show for a
sophisticated, beautiful beer. So we put the two together and sent
it to them. Then season two we got a little bit more proactive, and
we asked for scripts upfront to make sure we get them in the right
spot. But most of the time it's just doing our due diligence within
the actual material and timing the right brand for the right scene,
for the right character, for the right episode.
As the exclusive beer marketer for "House of Cards,"
what kind of input do you have in terms of how your products appear
in the show, how often or even during what type of scene or
There gets to be a comfort level. Like I said earlier, it's
grassroots. It's talking to prop masters and set decorators, the
people on the ground that are on set back east in Washington, D.C.,
and Virginia where they film it. We worked with the folks on that
show on prior projects. So you build a relationship and trust, the
ability to get them beer and signage really quickly. We have 700
distributorships across the country, so our geography is very, very
flexible. I'll call our guys in D.C., and they'll get beer and
signs -- exactly what I want -- within a 24-hour period. We're
actually a department within our own company, A-B InBev. I run our
entertainment marketing department and have the flexibility to make
the call on it. A lot of other beer brands are represented by
agencies. They have to go the agency and then go to the brand and
then get approvals, so there's a lot of different steps.
In season two of "House of Cards," there's a scene where
two journalists are drinking Stella Artois in the newsroom, but one
of the journalists is a bit down on his luck and may not be the
type normally associated with a high-end brand. At any point, did
Media Rights Capital's team reach out to give you a heads up about
the scene and see if it was cool with you?
Yeah. And that's all through the relationship as well. We hope
that, because we're providing a good service with them and trying
to be a good partner, that they'll come back to us with a scene
that may be in question for them. The communication level is key
there. We'll give them the okay if we think it works for our brand.
If we don't think it works and somebody's brown-bagging a Stella on
a bus and it's not the right place for our brand, then we'll let
them know that we'd prefer not to be in that scene. Ultimately it
is the choice of the creative team, the director and the actors
involved in it. We don't have the ultimate say on it, but we can
make a strong suggestion on where we want to be.
And Netflix is pretty hands off? They don't have any
From what I know, the production team brings them the final
product. And from what MRC and different companies that work with
Netflix have told us, they're great to work with. And the creative
side of the business is left up to production. I've heard nothing
but great things about Netflix.
There's value any time a marketer can get its brand or
product in front of people. But what's the unique value here, given
that it's Netflix and "House of Cards"?
To me the unique value was hitting the ground running and
getting on the ground floor of a top-notch digital series before
digital series really took off. Netflix with "House of Cards" was
probably the first critically acclaimed digital series. For us to
even be affiliated with it, it compliments us that we're looking at
new trends in the industry and trying to provide our great service
to something that is trending really well.
Do you work to quantify the impact of these product
placements on sales?
We do. We have a formula that we use. Unfortunately we can't use
it with Netflix because we don't have numbers from them. They don't
provide the number of viewers or the levels of audiences and
demographics that a studio would be able to. I'll give you an
example of how we track our return on investment for a film. If we
do a placement in "Birdman" -- which we did recently, we had Stella
Artois in an Academy Award-winning motion picture, it's like a
5-to-7-minute scene -- what we'll do is we take the box office
number and times it by a recall number. We use Cinemascore out of
Las Vegas, and they poll four different theaters of somewhere
around 300 people and get a recall number, [which is] a percentage
of the audience that noticed Stella Artois in "Birdman." Say 59% of
the people surveyed recognized Stella in "Birdman." Then we get the
box office number and times it by that 59% and divide it by the
average ticket price. We can get a general number of impressions.
Then we weigh that number of impressions versus a buy that we would
make, a media buy, and we can get a return on investment based on
that number. And the key to that whole equation is your brand being
in the right place in that film or TV project. Because if it isn't
in the right place, then all this exposure is taking your brand in
the wrong direction.
How do you calculate the ROI given Netflix's
It's more just the marketing prowess and the partnership with a
great show. And then the buzz of the industry, companies like you
guys coming to us and asking why we're affiliated. The marketing
value of being involved in Netflix, which is on fire, along with a
great show and a great brand where our volume trends are doing
really well on the brand too. So you can put the whole mix together
that Netflix and "House of Cards" has been good for Stella Artois
because over the past [two] seasons, the brand trends are really
good from a volume standpoint and from a profitability
Season three premieres Friday. What can you tell me
about how we'll see Stella Artois or other A-B InBev brands on the
show this season?
We sprinkled quite a few more brands around this season too,
just to diversify our portfolio within the show. This year Stella
Artois is our main brand because of our past alliance, but we put
in Budweiser, the king of beers, in a few scenes as well that we
appropriate. They were authentic type of scenes, genuine, about
friendship. So we figured that Budweiser was a better fit for those
particular scenes. We have a brand called Shock Top, which is a
Belgian wheat [beer] and a really fast-trending brand for us, and
we put that in to get that some exposure. That's more in a party
type of scene where the people in the background are drinking it,
not primary characters. So with our diversified portfolio and a
show like ["House of Cards"], if we do our homework and read into
the right scenes, we can place the right brand into those scenes.
We think season three is going to be exceptional. It's already
done. It's in the can, and we're looking forward to season
Are there any plans to do any supplemental marketing to
bank on being in "House of Cards"?
This is something we'd have to go through MRC and Netflix, but
we'd like to be more proactive from a digital standpoint and send
out still shots or clips of the scenes that we're in and actually
help market "House of Cards" for Netflix with our marketing arm