Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Kiss of Life for Branded Content

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast November 09, 2017

Traditional players are finding new ways to take on their digital rivals

It’s no secret that branded content, advertiserfunded programmes or native advertising (there are many names) is often seen as the ugly step-sister of real TV.

Even the advertising community has issues with it: How well does it work for the brand? Does it build awareness and sales as effectively as the tried-and-trusted 30-second TV spot?

But with linear TV viewing wobbling, particularly among younger people, and the money for creating great video content becoming more complicated to pull together, branded content is having a resurgence.

It helps that there have been some standout successes, like Carmilla, a Canadian gothic lesbian vampire web series that has created a global fan base. Best of all for sponsor Kimberly-Clark, which bankrolled the entire project, its feminine hygiene product U by Kotex has become part of the fan story.

When the first series ended on YouTube in late 2014, the #SaveCarmilla hashtag was often accompanied with references to U by Kotex, and vlogs in which the two lead actors debated questions like ‘do vampires get their periods?’.

On YouTube, the series has racked up more than 70 million views across its 108 x 4-minute episodes, in 193 countries. Last month, The Carmilla Movie debuted in cinemas before moving to VoD site Fullscreen.

The film cost less than C$1m (£600,000) to make and fans funded a third of that through pre-sales on video-sharing site Vimeo. Its Toronto-based producer Shaftesbury has signed a TV development deal and there is a book in the works.

“Kimberly-Clark is basking in the success of the series,” says Kaaren Whitney-Vernon, senior vice-president of branded entertainment at Shaftesbury. “This isn’t a vanity project, it’s about selling product and we’ve done it through a long-running soap for YouTube.”

And here’s the kicker: Shaftesbury owns the IP, with a back-end participation for Kimberly-Clark.

Carmilla has sold lots of merchandise and DVDs but when Shaftesbury brought a cheque to Kimberly-Clark for its share, the global retailer “didn’t know how to log it into its accounts”, says Whitney-Vernon. “It had never got money back from an ad campaign before.”

Shaftesbury was founded in 1987 as a feature fi lm company, but made its name with 11 seasons of Murdoch Mysteries, which has sold around the world.

The move into brand-funded content has been a way to partially “fix” what chief executive Christina Jennings calls the “broken TV model”, in which distributors and platforms like Netflix, Hulu and AMC want all the rights.

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