Branded Web Entertainment Makes It Big

Post-Mother’s Day, millions of consumers still have motherhood on their minds — as well as their computer screens. “In the Motherhood” is a series of Webisodes based on consumer-generated stories that are voted on by Internet users and brought to life in online video form by celebrity actors like Chelsea Handler, Leah Remini, and Jenny McCarthy. Having just completed its second season, the show is on hiatus, but the buzz surrounding it continues.

That’s largely because user-generated content isn’t the only trend incorporated into the show. The high quality, entertaining program is entirely the product of marketing, created by agency MindShare Entertainment to promote the Suave and Sprint brands and their products.

Besides its own site and YouTube, “In the Motherhood” can be found streaming on MSN.com, where reports say the second season averaged 3 million video views per episode (21 million overall). And a few months from now, consumers might be able to watch it on ABC as well. In an astounding (but ultimately inevitable) turn of events, we could soon see “In the Motherhood” become the first branded entertainment marketing campaign to transition from the Web to mainstream, primetime TV.

Think of it: a marketing campaign that so resonates with consumers and big-shot producers that it’s perceived to have the muscle to survive on TV, pulling its weight with Nielsen Ratings and attracting the necessary advertising dollars to stay afloat. How offline media buyers approach the show remains to be seen, of course; there’s speculated it will continue to incorporate product placements from online sponsors Suave and Sprint, possibly creating a challenge for competitors. But there’s obviously potential there, and that’s something for Suave and Sprint to be proud of.

The concept’s certainly right. “In the Motherhood” combines the exaggerated characters of “Desperate Housewives” with true-to-life plotlines every mother can relate to, and chuckle about. This isn’t the first time a clever concept for a series of clips made a Web debut aimed squarely at a target audience of moms — and even secured some major name stars. Back in 2006, Dove launched several Webisodes starring actress Felicity Huffman and directed by Penny Marshall. Other brands, like Degree deodorant have employed original Web programming to draw attention to their goods.

Having a unique concept and celebrity cast certainly helps. One issue for marketers considering online branded entertainment has always been the sheer volume of competing programming, both on and off the Web. Why watch an online series inspired by the Fox hit “24” when you can see the real thing (on DVD, at least), or an online show with all the pizzazz of primetime but none of the celebrity clout? A successful Webisode campaign has to be familiar enough to remind consumers of how much they enjoy watching TV, and original enough to be worth logging on for.

Many brands have tried and failed at branded entertainment because their theme didn’t sufficiently impress their target customers. Incorporating user-generated stories is just the hook a series needs to intrigue Web users, and that’s where online marketers have an advantage.

The Web is the ideal avenue through which to solicit stories with the promise of converting them into widespread entertainment; with this personalized angle, advertisers like Suave and Sprint aren’t just demonstrating their interest in the lives of their customers (consumers love to know brands care), they’re creating and sustaining an online community of like-minded customers, and securing guaranteed exposure to their products. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for marketers to exclusively use television toward the same end.

If “In the Motherhood” makes it offline, Web marketers won’t just gain bragging rights, but a comforting reminder that for all their efforts, their campaigns can make an incredible impact on consumers and the entertainment community. If they haven’t started yet, everyone will be watching to see what we come up with next.

Meet Tessa at ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 22, at Millennium Broadway in New York City.

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