L’Oreal is the latest brand to experiment with producing a TV series – but can they convince commercial broadcasters and streaming platforms to air it?
L’Oreal has created its own TV show that it hopes, by season two, may be picked up by the likes of Netflix or Amazon. Pepsi, AB InBev and Nike have also been exploring their potential as production companies in recent months. Ambitious marketers have tried similar experiments in the past, but experts say the battle for original content between streaming services might finally mean brands have the chance to make it a success.
Created by the L’Oreal’s Professional Products division, the seven-episode series – called Run Le Hair Show – will predominantly target hairdressers and stylists, though the beauty company hopes it will be just as appealing to non-professionals with an interest in haircare. It’s fronted by fashion journalist Peggy Frey alongside designer Charlie le Mindu and celebrity hairdresser Min Kim, who will discuss trends, conduct interviews with people in the industry and perform ‘masterclasses’ of different styling techniques in each 45-minute episode.
For L’Oreal, the experiment in TV production marks a significant change in its marketing strategy, which until now has largely focused on straight product comms.
“The brand’s goal is to support hair professionals with the right products and services, but at the same time help them shine by driving more clients to their salons. [It’s] a tricky balance that a TV ad wouldn’t solve,” explains Christine Milan, chief strategy officer at Publicis Luxe, the ad agency which worked with L’Oreal on the series.
“Pros want to be inspired, to learn and to be visible, while their potential clients are increasingly interested in niche pro expertise and hair culture. We started by imagining a hybrid content format, made by pros for pros, that would also appeal to anybody interested in hair.”
After landing on the format, Milan says L’Oreal explored the idea of designing the show specifically for a streaming platform like Netflix or Amazon. It hasn’t ruled it out for the future, but for the first season it wanted to have full control of the writing and be able to highlight the brand and its e-commerce channels in a way a commercial broadcaster may have written out. For now the series will live on YouTube, while L’Oreal will also air shorter segments directly onto social platforms like Instagram and Facebook.
To justify the budget, the show’s set, talent and production capabilities have been used to shoot the more traditional communication assets as well – from salon billboards to product shots. Local markets – predominantly France, China, Spain, Portugal and the Middle East – will also invest in media to promote the show on social.
“The format can – and will – evolve according to these metrics, new segments can appear. It’s not set in stone. We’ll also look at business metrics, like how many direct leads were generated and e-commerce conversions,” continues Milan.
L’Oreal isn’t alone in thinking it can be a creator of entertainment for the masses. Pepsi has been forging a path as a serious production company for some time. Back in 2016 it set up an internal division dubbed the ‘Creators League’ to develop TV-like content in the belief it would become a multi-million-dollar revenue-making business. The latest output is a new reality dating show in partnership with ViacomCBS.
Elsewhere, Anheuser-Busch has tapped the talent of Lil Rel Howery to front a show called ‘Not a Sports Show’, which will run on streaming platform Ficto TV. In the UK, Nike partnered with Channel 4 for a documentary following a young Londoner as he’s trained by professional sportspeople to improve his confidence.
It’s not a coincidence that so many brands are investing serious ad budgets into delivering distinctly non-advertising content. It’s getting harder to reach people through TV ads as ad-free streaming has gone from a novelty to becoming the expectation of TV audiences, especially for millennials and gen Z. According to a survey by Wattpad, an digital publishing platform, nearly half (45%) of gen Z hardly ever or never watch linear TV.
“There’s no going back to commercial breaks being the norm. There is a permanent effect of how dramas and comedies are being written without ‘act-outs’ for ad breaks,” says Mike Ferry, executive vice-president of development at global production company The Story Lab.
A workaround has been product placement or integration. Global product placement revenues have been on the rise for a straight decade – up 14.5% to $20.5bn in 2019, according to PQ Media. For marketers, the balance sheet is no longer adding up.
“Bidding for authentic, creative integration for already popular shows becomes as expensive or more expensive for brands than just financing an original show on their own to connect with a viewer on their own terms. It’s often compared to renting v owning. Why rent someone else’s space where you have little control when you can invest in bespoke content for your audience and own your place in culture?” continues Ferry.
But perhaps the biggest driver of brands flexing their content creating muscles is that, unlike ever before, demand is there from streaming services to buy what they’re making – if it’s good enough.
“There’s massive competition between all of these emerging streaming platforms whose success lives and dies with splashy content. There’s a huge demand for content of all genres, and if a brand comes to the table with a great show or film, they now have something an ad-free platform needs,” Ferry adds.
This surge in demand from streaming services for fresh content and a renewed willingness from advertisers to throw marketing budgets at creating Hollywood-quality TV shows led to Wattpad setting up a division of its platform dedicated to ‘Brand Originals’. Too often it was seeing brands – armed with the tools to self-publish anything online – develop and produce content they were convinced audiences would love, only for it to languish on YouTube.
“It might be true that a brand knows how to create good advertising content, but making entertainment is not the same as creating a brand campaign,” says Wattpad’s head of brand partnerships Chris Stefanyk.
It currently counts National Geographic, Microsoft and Unilever among its clients, partnering them on content selection, creative development and distribution. And this is where Stefanyk says brands can really prove their value to TV execs.
“Commercial broadcasters are appreciative when brands and partners bring marketing power to the table to support the success of the series or film. For example, Wattpad markets and promotes all adaptations back to the existing built-in audience on our platform – a community made up of 90 million people worldwide.”