Let’s play a game. Match the numbered brand with the lettered media property below.
(3) Destination Cleveland
(A) The Bachelor
(B) The Crew
(C) Who Do You Think You Are?
I’ll wait ….
Do your answers match?
(1) NASCAR connects to (B) The Crew.
(2) Ancestry connects to (C) Who Do You Think You Are?
(3) Destination Cleveland connects to (A) The Bachelor.
Each of these brands turned native advertising on its head – taking on roles in the stories being told by these television shows. And it’s not product placement, their brands propel the stories.
Let’s look at each relationship (then stick around for a bonus example of a brand that unknowingly became a player in the story of the U.K.’s two most famous stop-animation film stars).
The Bachelor dates Cleveland
I’m not a frequent viewer of The Bachelor, but I watched the two episodes that took place in Cleveland, Ohio, (where I live) this season. The Bachelor regularly visits towns when supported by local or state tourism bureaus. In fact, tourism bureaus have become a key player in The Bachelor franchise.
The episodes I watched feature traditional beauty shots and local vendor product placements (think a hotel, prime destinations, and restaurants). But The Bachelor isn’t about Cleveland. It’s about the drama between the bachelor and his suitors – women who vie for one-on-one dates in hopes they avoid the dreaded group date, and who want a rose at the end of the episode (so they get to stay) and eventually an on-air marriage proposal.
By design, Chris Harrison’s announcement of the trip to the contestants meets with the response local tourism officials expect – and want to change: “Why Cleveland?”
The partnership was designed to challenge that thinking, says Colette Jones, chief marketing officer of Destination Cleveland, the city’s tourism organization. The positive and lesser-known narrative of Cleveland could unfold to an audience of millions of Bachelor fans.
These Cleveland-centered episodes bring all the interpersonal drama viewers expect. But as those stories unfold, so do stories of Cleveland. The Bachelor Bowl (the group date in one of the episodes) features two former Cleveland Browns as coaches at FirstEnergy Stadium (where the NFL team plays). A one-on-one activity encompasses the bachelor and his date grabbing a bite at a pierogi cart, dancing a polka in Public Square, and riding in a Soap Box Derby car – elements of Cleveland’s desired narrative.
“While there was risk to the association between the brands, the potential for improved equity and perception change outweighed that risk,” Colette says.
The Destination Cleveland team provided The Bachelor producers with an overview of Cleveland from a tourism perspective as well as messaging that it hoped would be conveyed in the episode.
“While not all the brand elements and messaging made the final cut, we know the concerted effort to develop an understanding of our brand messaging strategy and who we are as a destination were essential to our success,” Colette says.
And Destination Cleveland didn’t let the show itself serve as a one-time marketing event. It continued the story by leveraging digital and media relations channels.
For example, the team published romance-related blog posts, including 15 Places for Marriage Proposals in CLE and Romance Travel: CLE Trip Planner, on the day the first Cleveland episode of The Bachelor aired.
Then it promoted the content with The Bachelor tie-in on social media:
— DestinationCleveland (@TheCLE) February 4, 2020
The Destination Cleveland team also is tying all the content to a bigger “Love, Cleveland” story being told across its digital channels this quarter.
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NASCAR drives The Crew
Like Destination Cleveland, NASCAR has plenty of content topics. The global auto-racing sanctioning and operating body crafts its content on star drivers, competitive races, etc. (And it does it well – Evan Parker, then-NASCAR vice president of content, was a 2018 Content Marketer of the Year finalist.)
But NASCAR is taking its content marketing to the next level – becoming the setting for an upcoming Netflix series, The Crew. Kevin James stars as an old-school race team crew chief who butts heads with the team’s modern-minded owner who wants more high-tech thinking, according to TV Insider. The setup isn’t new (someone who doesn’t like change is living in a world where change is a requirement). The format isn’t new either (it’s a traditional multi-camera sitcom).
What is new is the role of the NASCAR brand – it’s an integral component of the story. And NASCAR leaders Matt Summers, managing director, entertainment marketing and content development; and Tim Clark, senior vice president and chief digital officer, serve as executive producers on this mainstream sitcom.
Samantha Thompson, vice president of development, Branded, at Remedy Television + Branded, explains, “The brand is the story rather than the storyteller itself, opening up an entirely new opportunity for viewership, and of course, brand affinity as well.”
With The Crew on @Netflix, @NASCAR is the story rather than the storyteller and can reach new audiences, says Stephanie Thompson of @RemedyTVBranded via @cmicontent. #brandedcontent #examples Click To Tweet
(Note: Samantha offers her perspective as a brand developer and is not involved in The Crew or in the following example.)
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Ancestry plants TV roots
Ancestry built its business on connecting its customers to historical records for genealogical research. Over 30 years later, the company continues to connect families with their history (most frequently through its web-based membership site) and has added AncestryDNA, bringing genetic analysis to help customers learn their family history.
In 2010, Ancestry became involved in TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are, with executive producers Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky. Each episode follows a celebrity tracing their ancestral roots. During the journey, these famous faces follow the family tree created through Ancestry.com to learn about a relative or identify the next point to their genealogical path.
Ancestry shows up in other series, too. Its DNA testing was the launch point for a multi-episode arc of CNN’s United Shades of America in which its host Kamau Bell traces his genealogy.
Last year, NBC launched A New Leaf, which uses Ancestry DNA testing to explore the family ties of non-celebrities. The show “teaches the importance of understanding their family history in order to make important decisions and enact positive changes in their lives,” according to A New Leaf’s site.
“The brand has truly taken advantage of the recent cultural elevation and interest in genealogy and helping to tell those stories,” says Samantha Thompson of Remedy Television + Branded. “Ancestry’s products are not just integrated into these shows – they’ve made themselves essential in order to move the narrative forward.”
.@Ancestry has truly taken advantage of the recent cultural elevation and interest in genealogy and helping to tell those stories,” says Samantha Thompson of @RemedyTVBranded via @cmicontent. #storytelling #examples Click To Tweet
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Illustrator Mark Armstrong says this topic of brand stories being told in shows rang a bell at the cheese factory for him.
Which cheese factory? Wensleydale, the favorite brand of Wallace in Wallace and Gromit, the popular U.K. stop-motion animated shorts and films.
As Mark explains, Wensleydale had nothing to do with the original storyline. As IMBD details, the ongoing storyline of Wallace’s love of cheese led series creator, Nick Park, to name Wallace’s favorite brand. He picked Wensleydale because he liked the name, dropping it into several animated shorts around 1995.
What he didn’t know was that making Wallace a fan of Wensleydale cheese would lead to the business’s survival. Facing financial struggles and an uncertain future, Wensleydale saw sales take off after it became part of Wallace’s story. Today, it’s a big success and even features Wallace and Gromit Yorkshire Wensleydale among its products.
Envision the possibilities
Letting others tell your brand’s narrative can open a wealth of opportunities – to grow brand awareness, to connect with new audiences, to raise your profile among your target audiences. But the key to success is being deliberate and taking advantage of all the related potential opportunities.
Destination Cleveland’s Colette Jones offers this sage advice:
Overall, it’s essential to be strategic in the opportunities you consider – from ensuring brand and audience alignment to understanding how the partner has incorporated other (similar) brands and how fans responded to those partnerships to determining if the opportunity lends itself to a broader integrated marketing effort.
Who or what could tell your brand’s narrative within their larger story? Dream big and small – and share in the comments.
Want to visit the city that most recently gained attention through The Bachelor and that’s served as the backdrop for movies, including A Christmas Story and Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Want to grow your content marketing skills? You can do both at Content Marketing World this October. Register today.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute