Category Archives: Branded Entertainment

Branded VR: Ads So Good You Won’t Look Away

I wrote a piece for UploadVR exploring how Virtual Reality will change marketing forever.

Virtual Reality represents the biggest brand building opportunity in the history of marketing. Brands have long formed symbiotic relationships with emerging media technologies like print, radio, TV and social. Together, they bring the ‘new’ to the mainstream and help each other through the awkward early days. VR will soon combine the emotional impact of a local experience with the global audience of a YouTube video. This new medium will allow for a brand-to-brain connection, providing direct access to consumers’ hearts and minds.

Read the whole article on UploadVR.

Three Tips for Working with YouTube Stars & How We Doubled Subscribers in 2 Months

There is a revival of high quality branded content happening right now. Brands like GoPro, Red Bull and Marriott know what Procter & Gamble knew when they created Soap Operas at the dawn of TV; nothing is more powerful than great content. And to create great content you need great talent.

We recently launched the final episode of our series FOOD FOR THOUGHT with Matt Santoro. It is our highest performing series to date with over 1.5 million views and is responsible for doubling our YouTube subscribers from 60,000 to over 120,000 in just two months.

I’ve distilled some learning from the process into three techniques you can use to help you work with YouTube stars and create impactful content.


  1. Beyond subscriber count: Pick the right talent.

At Quest, we have always taken an innovative approach to building talent relationships and handle them in-house. We don’t write checks in hopes people will say nice things about us. Nor do we blindly ship product to influencers with a note saying “talk about us online!”. Instead we develop a genuine relationship over time and look for opportunities to create something great together. To do that, we move past…

Talent: ”I love your chocolate chip cookie dough bar!”

Brand: “You have millions of subs!”

…to a deeper understanding of our shared values, mission, and why content is central to our collective goals.

Matt Santoro discovered Quest Bars at Buffer Fest in 2014 as he was getting serious about living a healthier lifestyle. He liked Quest Bars so much he vlogged about us. His vlog prompted an amazing phone call about shared passions and goals. That led to a dinner at Playlist Live. After an evening of connection, conversation and Hibachi, we knew we had to make a series together.

Back home at Quest HQ after the Playlist Live dinner, we assembled the team, developed creative, then pitched it to Matt. He shared some feedback and was on a flight to Los Angeles a few weeks later (things always sound so easy in retrospect).

Matt is a huge YouTuber with over 4 million subscribers. That is appealing, of course. But there are many social media stars out there with equal clout. Brands need to dig deeper and understand the purpose of their content (see Simon Sinecks ‘Start with Why’ as a primer) and why a certain YouTuber is the right fit, both for the brand overall and the series itself.

There were three big reasons why Matt was a great fit Quest and Food for Thought:

  1. Matt is a true super fan and Quest Protein Bars and Powders have helped him live healthier.
  2. Matt’s style of content speaks to an audience obsessed with learning and growing, two key attributes of the Quest brand
  3. Matt lives and breathes the Quest lifestyle. He transformed from an office drone to a man who owns his life.

A mismatch between brand and talent will misfire the series and worse, the community. It will erode the fan equity of both the brand and the talent. An easy rule of thumb: If you don’t personally like the talent then your audience probably won’t either. Trust your intuition and pick the right talent, regardless of how many subscribers they have. You can make a great series with someone who has 1,000 subscribers or 10 million but if you’re just writing a check they’ll just be collecting one.

  1. Content is ubiquitous: Make it good.

YouTube is oversaturated with content; 400 hours of footage are uploaded every minute. When information is cheap, attention is expensive. That means you need to make your content great, or don’t make it at all.

To make great content start with what you want to achieve with it. If you want to see a direct increase in sales or website traffic, then use the tried and true 30 second spot. We leverage our YouTube channel to release commercials during product campaigns. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you don’t overload your subscribers (brand channel programming is a topic for another day).

If, on the other hand, your aim is to create a series that fans will want to watch and share, then put the content first and the brand second. The digital audience is sophisticated. Don’t think you can just sneak in a commercial and get millions of views. When done correctly, the audience will appreciate how the content came to be – and the brand behind it. But if you turn your series into a commercial, expect a revolt. Or, even worse, crickets.

With Food for Thought, direct mentions of the Quest brand were brief and tongue-in-cheek. I never asked our editors for more Quest shots. In fact, a few times I did the opposite. Matt’s audience seems to appreciate how we enhanced his vlog format and introduced a fun new animated aesthetic. They enjoyed the content and knew we made it with them in mind.

  1. The Community Dimension: Connecting audiences through Content.

Social content adds an interactive dimension that can not be an afterthought. In fact, interaction must be built in at the planning stage. It’s one thing to hire a YouTube star for your video, hand them a script then call it a day. It’s another for a brand to connect with that star’s community in a meaningful way. When scripting, consider your fans and the YouTuber’s fans. How will they react? How will you comment and share?

All communities have customs, shared vernacular, favorite brands and unique ways of behaving. For instance, Matt has an alter-ego character named Eugene. He makes rare appearances in Matt’s videos and his fans love him. Eugene makes a brief cameo in Food for Thought. We weren’t sure how Quest fans, and others unfamiliar with Matt, would react since they weren’t in on the gag. In retrospect, we could have used Eugene for the entire episode. Those who understood loved it. Those who didn’t weren’t turned off and instead were brought deeper into Matt’s ecosystem.

When entering a new community, a brand must enter with grace. Know the customs of the community – both in the content itself and in the way you interact in the comments – to earn your place within the community.

Matt’s audience and Quest’s audience are very similar according to YouTube analytics (although he skews more male) so the Quest voice wasn’t forced or off center. The similarities made Food for Thought an effective bridge to bring Matt’s audience to Quest. Our other content will, hopefully, keep them engaged.

We picked the right talent, made compelling content and authentically bridged Matt’s community to Quest’s. By executing the three techniques we doubled our YouTube community and, in the process, raised awareness for all things Quest. Matt has been incredibly generous in sharing Food for Thought across his social channels and even gave us a main channel shout out. He went above and beyond what any contract said because he was proud of the show. Matt wanted his fans to see it, which in the end is the ultimate litmus test.



Who is Behind Charlie Sheen Winning the Internet?

My post before this one was about Old Spice Guy (Yes, it’s been a while). The Internet agreed it was the bench mark for an innovative social media campaign. It was interactive and different and got the brand’s message across. But once the buzz wore off, and everyone forgot how to spell Isaiah Mustafa, we all wondered what would be next.

We’ve finally got our answer. It’s Charlie Sheen.

Granted, he cheated since he is already a major celebrity, but Sheen has jumped online head first. The campaign isn’t interactive like Old Spice’s, but it’s more effective because it is truly transmedia. It begins with a TV show on a broadcast network and ends in nearly every online entertainment format available.

While everyone else wants to know if Sheen is still on drugs, I want to know who is running this campaign. Yes, there is the post for a social media intern, but that’s just a distraction (and it’s also an ad for This is all too well coordinated. It’s just too … perfect.

First, the power of mass TV and radio stirs the pots and gets people talking. This ABC Interview being the turning point into Act 2 (put that into film terms, why not). The mashups quickly followed and brought the sensation online:

Then he joins Twitter and gets a million followers in 24 hours. Since accomplishing that feat, it has been touted as a World Record ad nauseum. Of course, before then, no one even thought of that metric. Charlie Sheen sure didn’t think of it. Do you know who did? Some clever marketing agency. Now it is a benchmark for anyone trying to enter the online sphere with gusto. Can’t break a million in a day? You lose.

Furthering the proof that there are people behind this, his Twitter account is being monetized, to the tune of a million dollars a year. The mind of a digital agency. Rounding it out is a ustream channel and today, a FunnyOrDie short. You can’t be a funny celebrity online without being on FoD.

If you were given a high profile celebrity, who would do anything, and told to make him huge online, the last two weeks of Sheen is more or less a blue print of how to do it. Everyone is talking about Charlie, offline and on. He is a meme to all, a hero to some, and completely unavoidable.

So, we are left with two questions. 1) Who is the mastermind and 2) To what end – What is Sheen after? This is more than a ‘in your face’ to the execs who canceled his show. This power play must be grabbing for something bigger. The 2012 election isn’t too far away…

Hello Internet. How are you? Fantastic …

What a fun day to be on the Internet.

Old Spice has done more for its brand appeal in the last week, double it in the last 24 hours, than any one could have imagined.

It all started with this:

12 million views since February.

Then, last week:

5.2 million views since June 29th, quickly becoming a social media favoriate. Then today… A surprise. It started on Twitter and quickly headed to Reddit, Digg, various blogs and beyond – The Old Spice Man was taking ‘requests’.

And boy, did he respond. Kevin Rose, Ashton Kutcher, Ryan Seacrest, Ellen, Perez Hitlon, The Huffington Post, Gizmodo, GQ, Starbucks, a guy proposing to his wife (She said yes) and TONS of other ‘regular’ people. Old Spice Man had witty, in character, remarks for them all.

The target wasn’t just individuals but also communities, who similarly responded in droves. Over 2,000 upvotes on Reddit (A handful of Redditors got their question answer by The Man) and over 4,500 Diggs (The Man sent a sick Kevin Rose a get well video).

Viral marketing genius.

All it took was a simple set (Which I’m sure they still had from filming last weeks commercial), one actor doing one-take responses. Throw in a couple of writers and an intern or two monitoring Twitter / Digg / Reddit / Youtube to bring users into the fun and… boom! Success.

This wouldn’t have worked if the original videos hadn’t blown up like they did. Even though the first two did hit, the creators further ensured their success by employing a smorgasbord of viral plans into one Uber Viral; Foundation videos (the commercials), fresh content (the Man’s responses) and massive community outreach. A well coordinated attack with a little luck (having Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Rose and Ryan Seacreat Tweet about you – whose followers total 9.6 million – would cost a LOT of money). Finally, to really make sure this became huge, Old Spice was a sponsored trending topic on Twitter.

This is a two-way conversation done right.

A random user (aka the ad agency in disguise) wasn’t submitting to the various communities. It was The Man himself (Well, probably one of those interns, but still). It was cohesive, authentic, well planned, and most importantly – ENTERTAINING.

Todays success isn’t only helping Old Spice. Isaiah Mustafa, the actor who plays Old Spice Man, got over 600 new Facebook fans and 4,000 Twitter followers today according to FanPageList. The gift that keeps on giving. Isaiah is now a bonafide Internet legend. Where will we see him next?

Lets just hope Old Spice knows when to leave a good thing alone and not beat this into the ground.