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A Recipe for Successful Branded Web Entertainment

Posted on February 2, 2010 at 10:48 pm
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How does Swedish home furnishings giant IKEA become the industry leader in producing successful branded web entertainment? With an astounding 6.1 million views for the first two seasons, “Easy To Assemble”, the brainchild of indie actress Illeana Douglas has launched IKEA into a new age of marketing, nay – a new way of thinking about reaching customers and fans through sponsored content on the internet. Find out more about the who, the how and the way IKEAFANS.com has been a driving force in this success after the jump!

How IKEA Has Soared to the Top in Branded Entertainment

So, back to the original question – how does a Swedish furniture store manage to become THE one to watch in the branded entertainment arena? With the powerhouse combo of indie film starlet Illeana Douglas, the promotional and marketing genius of CJP Digital in the person of Wilson Cleveland and the enthusiasm and viewership of hundreds of thousands of IKEA Fans (that’s YOU!) worldwide – that’s how.

From a star-studded, red-carpet premiere held at the Hollywood icon, The Egyptian, to the multitude of appearances made by the “Easy To Assemble” team at industry events, “Easy To Assemble” has forged new pathways to success for brand managers, web content producers and indie writers and directors hoping to make it big. But why go to all the fuss for just a little ole internet show?

The Future is in Web Entertainment

illeana-douglas-set-easy-to-assembleWhen veteran movie and television actress Illeana Douglas began turning down TV roles and parts in movies to pursue creating her own web series, she encountered lots of questions (including her own) about what she was doing. “This is crazy,” remarked Douglas, thinking back on the early days,

“but I saw the future in web entertainment in the way that I saw [it with] independent film. With the popularity of reality TV shows, there’s little place for scripted drama or comedy anymore.”

Just last week at NATPE (The National Association of Television Program Executives’ annual conference), Michael Eisner, legendary Hollywood executive speculated that traditional media vehicles (cable, broadcast television) are going to die off in favor of more efficiently distributed internet content. Eisner is quoted in the tubefilter.tv article about NATPE as saying,

I don’t know if it will be evolutionary or revolutionary…but it can’t not happen.”

And although IKEA has a long history of bold marketing moves and immersive product placement, (anyone see 500 Days of Summer?), producing a TV show on the web is a whole new frontier. IKEA will of course continue with more traditional marketing methods (the budget for ETA is a mere drop in IKEA’s $300 million global media budget), but as IKEA Marketing Chief and “Easy To Assemble” Executive Producer Magnus Gustaffson acknowledged in an article in Ad Age,

three to five years from now, we’ll be in a period where we need a stronger mix of nontraditional [marketing]

Setting the Standards for Web Series Production and Distribution

Last week at NATPE, Eisner stated there is no current model for the production and distribution of web series, however in many ways IKEA is setting the gold standard.  A pact with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) guarantees that not only is everyone on the set of “Easy To Assemble” paid (often, actors are not paid at all for web series), everyone from assistants to guest stars are actually well-compensated – at ‘near-TV rates,’ according to Ad Age. And with season two of “Easy To Assemble” shot in high-definition, the wobbly, scratchy, home-video quality of previous web series is a thing of the past.

In addition to improved production factors, IKEA’s distribution model has been wildly successful, in large part due to the marketing efforts of Wilson Cleveland, founder of CJP Digital and the force behind getting “Easy To Assemble” propelled to the top position in terms of exposure for web series.

The Launch of Branded Web Entertainment

wilson-clevelandInterestingly, Cleveland may actually have single-handedly launched the category of branded entertainment web series when he created The Temp Life for Spherion Staffing Services in 2006. In its fourth year, The Temp Life is the longest running branded web series on which Cleveland writes, markets and stars as ‘Nick (Trouble) Chiapetta’.

In 2008, while working with Tubefilter.tv on securing sponsors, speakers and studios for OnFronts, Cleveland developed a professional relationship with Douglas in hashing out the details of her presentation at the event. Says Cleveland,

I believe so strongly in what smart, creative, media-savvy producers like Illeana, Rob Barnett, Jordan Levin and Felicia Day are doing in the Web TV medium.

It seems Douglas believed in him too, because IKEA hired CJP Digital to run marketing and distribution based on Douglas’ and Executive Producer Dominik Rausch’s recommendation; the job had previously been held by IKEA’s media company in the US, MediaEdge:CIA.

Bringing it to the Fans

cjp-digital-media-logoCleveland’s genius was in recognizing that the success of an IKEA branded show lies in reaching IKEA’s already loyal following. According to Cleveland, that takes skillful communication:

The ability to develop a series around a brand that will resonate with its target audiences AND effectively promote that series is what sets us apart … when a beloved brand like IKEA is so deeply integrated within a show (officially as with “Easy To Assemble” or unofficially as with IKEA Heights) you have to appeal to the established fans of that brand to get behind you, as we did with IKEAfans and “Easy To Assemble”.

Early on, IKEAFANS was brought on board with the concept of a contest – the site with the most views at the end of the season gets written in to the final episode. So far, IKEAFANS.com’s viewership has accounted for approximately 20% of the 5.1 million views. Tomorrow’s episode of “Easy To Assemble: Flying Solo” will feature a mention of IKEAFANS.com!

What’s in Store for “Easy To Assemble”

Flying high from the early success of the second season of “Easy To Assemble” and mid-way through the airing of the first ten episodes of the season, Chief of Marketing Gustaffson penned a deal to produce four more episodes of ETA before season three was even signed; this miniseries has been dubbed ‘Flying Solo’.

In the first episodes of ‘Flying Solo’, we find the winner of the Co-Worker of the Year contest flying to Sweden along with the rest of the cast and crew (and a few journalists cum extras who showed up for the filming) to attend the festivities and ceremonies. The third episode has the much anticipated mention of IKEAFANS.com and the fourth will be a backstory of Spärhusen – the Almost Greatest Band of Sweden – a spinoff of ETA.

When asked if the anticipated third season of Easy To Assemble would bring even more interaction with IKEA Fans, Cleveland responded,

Are you serious?!  Neither “Easy To Assemble” nor “Sparhusen” would have had this level of mainstream success this quickly and consistently without our amazing fans watching, Tweeting, commenting and just believing in the show.  Illeana, IKEA and the entire cast/crew would agree with me on that, which is why we try and give as much back to fans as we can and will always do as long as we’re making this show.

We’ll look forward to that!

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