Norton’s branded documentary on cybersecurity

A 23-minute branded documentary that doesn’t talk about the brand.

You’ll hear this often at Toast: If you’re doing branded content, talk as little as possible about the brand, or at least be respectful of your audience if you do.

This is what Norton has done in a long-form documentary they recently released, part of a series they launched with an initial episode in June 2015. In both episodes, there aren’t any mentions of the brand (other than in the opening and closing credits and an interview with a Norton expert on the subject).

But it hits a bullseye on brand values and the value proposition of the brand: online security. (Norton is the company that develops security and antivirus software.)

In the 2016 23-minute video, a investigative filmmaker searches for very high security data centers around the world. Basically asking the question: “Where do cybercriminals hide?”


The overall content is very interesting and well produced. Its goal is to work on building brand awareness and brand equity by providing entertaining and relevant information on cybersecurity, without selling a Norton product directly.

The article I am sharing with you today is not an article on the project itself, but actual press coverage the second episode received. And this is where content always gets interesting, when it gets traction and is useful enough to its audience so that it gets talked about and shared.

The documentary became the reason this journalist wrote an article about secure data centers. Of course, you’ll say, there must be PR behind this, and I have no problems with it at all. If the subject matter interests a journalist, so be it.

Most media outlets now have different design templates for articles that were directly sponsored by a brand, and this one, published over at Vice, doesn’t have it. This would mean that the content Norton produced was interesting and relevant enough for the journalist to write a review/article about it.

And this is what brands can learn from this. If you produce good video content, it will be talked about, and hopefully can be picked up by media outlets that will make it reach an even larger audience.

I will let you read this article and learn more about highly secure data centers, but keep your branded-content-thinking-cap on and analyze how this branded content video made it out to a larger audience.

And if you’d like to learn more about how to produce content like this, simply write an email to [email protected] and we’ll be in touch.

Branded content and professional sports: 31 examples

How much do you like getting interrupted during the game?

So, did you win your Super Bowl bets yesterday?

The Super Bowl is without a doubt the biggest showcase of interruptive advertising on earth. Traditional spots, on TV, that although they might be tied to a larger global campaign, will for the most part not be broadcasted much more than during the big game.

A lot of money invested for a very short shelf-life.

Every vertical and niche is getting into long-form video and branded content and pro sports is not different. Not only does it engage your audience for a longer period of time, it can have a much longer usable life.

You all know about Red Bull and GoPro initiatives on the extreme sports front, but do you know about the dozens of examples in football, basketball, rugby, soccer?

VideoInk recently published an article that lists just over 30 examples of branded content in pro sports. From long-form video and documentaries (the type of production we like a lot here at Toast) to stunts and creation of brand production studios.

Take some time to browse the examples listed by Tom Bannister in this very good article, you’ll find some gems, and maybe even something that can inspire you for your own industry.

And if you’re not sure what kind of video content production is right for your brand or product, don’t hesitate to give us a call at Toast.

Why are brands producing films?

“Stop interrupting what people are interested in, and become what they’re interested in.” – David Beebe, Marriott

Last year, it seems the interest by brands in making films or series got a serious boost. And we’re not talking about long-form ads, these are really valuable content, branded entertainment.

To name just just a few brands that produced great films in recently: Prada-owned Miu Miu, American Girl, Cornetto ice cream, JetBlue, Johnnie Walker, Marriott, Jaguar, Samsung, Airbnb, Intel, Toshiba, LEGO, Biotherm (one that Toast Studio produced).


Many of you will reply by saying these are global brands that have the budget to produce such content, but recent advancements in production capabilities have allowed smaller brands to do the same.

The main thing to remember here is that :

  • “In 2015, Americans spent more time each day with digital video than they did social media.”
  • “[…] studies have shown that 80 percent of millennials reference videos when they’re making purchasing decisions.”

What do brand marketers like about brand films ?

  • The story is theirs to tell. They own the narrative and can make it entertaining, relevant, while keeping it in line with business objectives.
  • Brand films allow you to favour owned content rather than a borrowed audience (in comparison with advertising).
  • Brand films can feed, as would traditional advertising, your upper-level funnel, it’s not just about brand building. See that image at the top, how Marriott creates travel packages, based on their film French Kiss.

Take some today to read more about the subject with this article, which also dwells in how it ties to sales and how distribution is key in the success of the endeavour.

(P.S. A quick search by Chérie made us realize that when you’ll read that mention about La Presse being the first French newspaper that sold a print ad, it means French as in France. Not the Montreal-based La Presse daily.)

Entertainment Is the New Utility for Brands

There are so many branded content opportunities, are you jumping in?

Marketers and brands need to at least be thinking about branded content. There are so many opportunities to distribute and leverage content to either build your audience or reward them for being on board with you.

Theodor Arhio and Juha-Matti Raunio of TBWA (the ad agency) in Helsinki just published their thoughts on the whole branded entertainment thing.

I especially liked their take on who should produce (or shouldn’t) branded content :

“But let’s face it—a long ad is just a long ad, even if it has an arc. Meanwhile, production companies that graft a brand onto an existing product should be aware that this isn’t branded entertainment either—it’s sponsorship.”

From Marriott’s “Two Bellmen” (which had a budget of 250k$) to TBWA&FremantleMedia’s “Buythis!” (click on the link in the article to watch the 2-minute business case!), they set the stage as to what’s next and how producers and brands can work better together.

House of Cards and Product Placement

Some people think Netflix is closed to advertisers. They’re not.

The third season of House of Cards was released a couple days ago, so you’d think that the article I am linking today is strictly buzz-worthy, but no.

Advertising Age published an extensive article on how Anheuser-Busch InBev placed its products in the series (and they’ve done it since the first season).

It covers everything, from how it started, how they manage it, how they know the fit is right. And get this, something always interesting to read, a mathematical formula they use to calculate the value of product placement.

They even tell how much they paid to get their products there: nothing.

Before I send you off to read the article, one thing you need to remember: this article is about product placement, not branded content. Nonetheless, it tells the entire story on how a top global brand tackles these types of projects.

As a simplistic cheat sheet, here is how you can categorize types of brand integrations:

  1. Sponsorship: production is completed; only possibility is to have logos and brand appear “around” the content.
  2. Product placement: very close to the end of the production process. Script is final, brands can only evaluate if the fit is right with their values and the product’s use, as per the script, suits them.
  3. Branded content: brand and production team get together before the final scripting process (the sooner the better) and complete the scripts hand in hand, tying storytelling to the brand’s values and business objectives. This is where the brand has the most say.

Today’s article is a little longer than usual, but it is a great business case in product placement.

A discussion with the creator of the first branded web series ever

Wilson Cleveland shares his thoughts on the realities of web series production

In 2006, a web series was produced, called “The Temp Life.” It would be renewed for 5 seasons. It was partly funded by a temp agency and it was scripted with the client. Seems it was the first one. Ever.

It was produced by Wilson Cleveland, who also ended up starting his own production house, UNboxd, focused on web series production, for brands.

Over the years, UNboxd has produced other branded content series and Cleveland sat down with Jillian Richardson for a quick interview, published over at Contently.

From managing client expectations to taking care of client-fear as the launch date nears, he discusses what he has learned and how he approaches common production speed bumps.

Of course I recommend you read the entire interview, but one of the key takeaways from the article is when he is asked what he would tell producers and ad agencies tackling the sponsored video scene:

« Companies are worried that “If we’re not in their face, people won’t know that this is made by us.” But consumers know it’s you. They know it’s you. The know the brand that’s behind it. It’s when you keep reminding them that they’ll tune you out. »

5 Great Habits in Branded Content

Branded content can be a really good thing, but it’s also not that hard to fail at it. Here are 5 habits you need to have.

When a brand decides to integrate itself into a content production, old reflexes are sometimes bound to surface in the way it will position itself in the end product.

And I’m not talking about positioning in the marketing sense of things but actually in the sense of the place the brand will take and how it will act in relation to the content and the target audience.

In the article I wanted to share this week, Matthew Bryan Beck, strategist at Ogilvy & Mather New York, shares 5 good habits to keep in mind during the ideation phase, production and deployment of branded content.

In his introduction, he references old habits of applying traditional models of TV advertising to any type of content. A good number of brands don’t realize how television is a linear, non-interactive media, while new digital platforms need to create engagement and interaction. Nothing new here.

Although his article puts focus on how brands use content in a social media context, we can apply these five habits to branded content:

  1. Give air to your content, don’t be too aggressive of sales-oriented.
  2. Strategy is essential, don’t simply publish content, think about it first.
  3. Be human, your audience can smell an algorithm from miles out.
  4. Be active, be regular.
  5. The best branding is the content itself.

I am a big fan of always keeping the basics of what we do not too far. It is very easy to concentrate on execution and forget the big idea why we are producing content.


Producers, and brands, must be ready to compromise

How both parties feel they have all to waste in the branded content arena.

On April 5th and 6th 2014 was held the annual MIPCOM, the “deal-making event for documentary co-financing and co-production, as well as the world’s only factual content library.”

In short, the conference entirely based on telling true stories. These are documentaries, news, etc.

As so many see the advertising and factual fields on a collision course, this year’s edition was bound to be very interesting.

And one of this year’s session had a very conclusive conclusion: “Brands, producers ‘must compromise’”

This week’s article tells just how “filmmakers are concerned that their films are going to be completely destroyed […]” and brands “are concerned that if they step away from TV commercials they are not going to see the return on investment”.

A short, yet worthy read, that’s for sure. Based on the harsh reality and experience of branded content.


After Netflix and others, Playstation and Xbox now preparing original series

With original series coming to more and more platforms, game consoles were the logical next step.

Gamers have always been a very dedicated and loyal bunch. They have this way of getting attached to a narrative a sticking to it for hours on.

Well, this is not something that had gone unnoticed by console manufacturers and game studios.

Sony has announced they are giving the green light to the production of “Powers”, an adaptation based on the iconic comic book.

The interesting thing is that this 10 episode series, each an hour long, will be made available on the Playstation platform.

The decision makes total sense. You already have an audience that is known to be interested in specific types of content, why not produce it and make it available directly to them instead of trying to have them visit another of your media properties?

And why not have it made by the same team who have successfully adapted another comic book: “The Walking Dead”?

This announcement comes as Microsoft has also said it will create a series adapted from its extremely popular “Halo” franchise, to be distributed on its Xbox platform.

Lesley Goldberg over at Hollywood Reporter has a fairly complete article on the announcement. My recommended read for this week.


[Update August 2014 : Original content production doesn’t to be on Microsoft’s agenda anymore. The firm has announced a large restructuring of its divisions that triggered the closing of its Xbox Entertainment Studios. The majority of content produced by this division will never see the light of day. Only some hybrid projects in the likes of Quantum Break of the Halo TV series will not be impacted. Source : PolygonGameplanetArtechnica – via Simon Breton (@Soul_Shaolin), France]

Has Chipotle reinvented the soap opera with Farmed and Dangerous?

Chipotle is integrating brand values, not products, into its series.

As I write week in and week out about branded content, it is always extremely refreshing to see a brand putting the core tenets of it in one of their projects.

On February 17th, Chipotle launched a four-part series, “Farmed and Dangerous,” on Hulu.

What is very interesting is how Chipotle Chief Marketing Officer Mark Crumpacker describes the idea: “When we created ‘Farmed and Dangerous,’ it wasn’t about producing content that we could then be a part of. In fact, Chipotle isn’t really in the show.”

Soap operas were designed to promote products, this show is not the case. It was built to integrate Chipotle brand values and not to promote the brand and its restaurants.

“We’ve been thinking of ‘Farmed and Dangerous’ as more of a ‘values-integration’ than traditional ‘product-integration.’ The show is rooted in some of the problems we are working to solve or improve upon (the first season hits on the reliance of fossil fuels in large-scale farming), but it isn’t about us.” says Crumpacker.

Steve Hall did a good piece on the series and it is the article I am recommending this week, over at Contently. It will also allow you to watch the trailer for the series, which features one of the strong points of this series: exploding cows. Enjoy!