Growing up, I never ate out very much—only on special occasions (birthdays) or en route to a vacation. And when on vacation, it seemed as if we invariably had two choices driving through West Virginia: Tudor’s Biscuit World or Denny’s. My Dad always chose Denny’s because of the buffet. They always had those really hot plates in the buffet line, which was awesome for the hot food but tended to wreak havoc with the Jello and cottage cheese. So most of my run-ins with Denny’s were when I was younger, but I recently had the distinct pleasure of watching a web series for Denny’s called Always Open with Dave Koechner (Champ from Anchorman).
It’s essentially a hosted talk show shot in an actual Denny’s while the restaurant is open for business. Guest stars include A-list comedians and celebs such as Amy Poehler (SNL, Parks and Recreation), Will Forte (SNL), Andy Richter (Conan) and Sara Silverman (comedienne, writer, actress). Just a series of hilarious unscripted booth conversations that happen to be in a Denny’s restaurant. The best part is, I get the brand message without them having to explain it to me: Denny’s is a cool, casual place to eat and relax (oh, and they’re always open—all the time). Brand entertains me; brand makes me laugh. I like the content; therefore, I like the brand. I share the brand with my friends. I eat at Denny’s.
The campaign is produced by DumbDumb, an award-winning comedy enterprise led by two of Hollywood’s best-looking comedians, Arrested Development alums Will Arnett and Jason Bateman. They actually show up in two of the funnier episodes and their dry sense of humor is spread all over the series, in a good way. The campaign exceeded all of Denny’s expectations, doubling brand perception from 16.2 to 32 (measured by brand index). Buzz rating nearly doubled, increasing from 36.1 to 66.1. The first series received over 6 million views. The series continues to be a major success and recently won a Lion from the prestigious Cannes Lion Awards in the Branded Content & Entertainment category. Another great example of being marketed to and liking it. More, please.
On the opposite end of the awesome spectrum, we have yet another attempt by a car company to enter the world of branded episodic content. Date Better with Sentra is a clumsy series from Nissan. The episodes try to convince us that our bumbling, ultra-white-guy protagonist Jeff (who is trying to pick up a lady friend in a bar in Episode I) could have all his problems solved if only he had a Nissan Sentra. Thankfully, a Latino/tan/ethnic narrator swoops in at the end of each episode to punch us in the face with overt product benefits and brand message, like a new smooth CVT transmission (Get it? Smooth.). It plays like an episode from Full House, minus the laugh track. The only saving grace is that the episodes are short, running about 1:00 each. The series was created by Agency TBWA/Chiat/Day, and since November of 2012, episodes are receiving about 30,000 views on YouTube. They should have taken cues from the hilarious Altima spot ‘New Job‘. While it’s a :30 spot and not considered episodic content, the humor is right on.
Creating a successful branded web series is hard. Really hard. For every successful series (Denny’s), there are a bunch of misfires (Nissan). Trying to deliver a branded message while also entertaining is a very delicate balance, but I absolutely do believe there is value in this type of content. For brands, it is an opportunity to experiment with message and formula—you don’t have to and SHOULDN’T try to make web content into :30 broadcast spots. Webisodes can be a steady stream of content for brands and a successful campaign gives consumers a reason to come back. There is less financial risk as compared to the average broadcast spot, as webisodes can be (potentially) produced for a fraction of cost.
On the flip side, as with any advertising, the wrong message can confuse consumers and even turn them off. I absolutely loved the Altima spot mentioned above. Brand message masked in a simple, clever concept that entertained. But then I stepped in the Date Better With Sentra and am still scraping it off my shoe. You almost had me Nissan.