Unilever’s Content Play


The Wall Street Journal (paid sub. req.) is reporting on the latest adventure in branded entertainment.

Next week, MTV plans to air “The Gamekillers,” a new TV series about young men’s quests to win over women. It may not be obvious to viewers, but the series is also about Unilever PLC’s quest to sell more Axe antiperspirant.
The subtle connections between “Gamekillers” and Axe are the result of a carefully crafted compromise between MTV, which doesn’t want people to think it’s airing an extended deodorant commercial, and Unilever, which wants to peddle more product.
Getting “branded entertainment” on the air isn’t easy. While Unilever’s ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty originally envisaged the show as a TV series, the company initially agreed to finance development of a single episode. That one-hour show aired several times last year on MTV, drawing enough of an audience that the Viacom Inc.-owned cable channel agreed to air another five episodes.
Getting that one episode of “Gamekillers” on the air was a two-year odyssey. In 2005 BBH executive William Gelner flew to Chicago, where Unilever’s Axe team works, to pitch a new Axe Dry marketing campaign.
As part of its ad campaign, Mr. Gelner suggested the consumer-product titan produce a TV series, which eventually became a quasi-reality show that focused on a young man’s quest to win over a woman. He would need to overcome the vigorous efforts of numerous over-the-top characters — the “Gamekillers” — to unnerve him. If the young man “stayed cool” under pressure (Axe Dry’s marketing message), he’d get the girl.

About David Burn

Fired up to write it down. Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. Chief storyteller at Bonehook, a guide service and bait shop for brands.

  • Duval

    I have never respected Justin Timberlake more. This stuff is the reason why.

  • yikes

    I was 20 minutes into the original episode (after happening upon it) before I realized it was an ad.
    Really well done, and truly innovative.
    Kudos.