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

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.