June 11th, 2009

Coke Turns to Webisodes to Entice Millennials to Nestea

By Joe Guy Collier
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Coca-Cola Co.’s Nestea brand is the sole sponsor of a series being released this summer that, on the face of it, seems routine.

The series has experienced actors and an award-winning director. It’s set in an office environment, a familiar backdrop for primetime shows.

But don’t look for this show, titled “CTRL,” on TV. And don’t look for Nestea commercial breaks before or during the program. “CTRL” is part of a new slate of Webisodes delivered exclusively through digital outlets — Internet sites, video on demand and gaming consoles. And Nestea isn’t part of the credits; it’s part of the story.

The Webisode fits well with Nestea’s goal of winning over millennials, 18- to 34-year-olds, said Annis Lyles, vice president of media and interactive for Coca-Cola North America. That generation of consumers is increasingly getting their media in bits and pieces through the Internet, she said.

“It was the right place at the right time for the brand,” Lyles said. “We felt like it would differentiate us from other brands and allow us to really form a new relationship with a very important target [audience].”

The “CTRL” Webisode, due out in mid-July, is written and directed by Canadian film-maker Rob Kirbyson. It’s based on his short film, “CTRL Z,” which won an award at last year’s Sundance film festival. Tony Hale, previously in Fox’s “Arrested Development,” is the lead character.

This form of “branded entertainment,” or product appearances, has been growing for years on TV and likely will grow on the Internet, said Dean DeBiase, chief executive officer of TNS Media, a New York firm that tracks ad spending.

“It’s another way in a very crowded advertising space to elegantly place products in programming,” DeBiase said.

Webisodes create new opportunities for advertisers because they can have interactive features, such as links to online games, that further drive home the company’s message, DeBiase said.

“The difference between branded entertainment on TV and branded entertainment on the Web is that it can be much more dynamic,” he said.

They also have one major attraction for media companies. “This is another way to solve the question: How do you make money on the Internet?” DeBiase said.

NBC Universal Digital Studio launched its first online series last year, “Gemini Division.” It pitched earlier this year a slate of Webisode programming, about five shows.

“CTRL” is the first series of that slate announced with a sponsor, Nestea. It will be distributed through such outlets as NBC.com, USANetwork.com and Hulu.com.

The challenge is to weave Nestea credibly into the plot while making sure the writer and director maintain creative control, said Cameron Death, vice president of NBC Universal Digital Studio. The show’s producers worked closely with Coca-Cola on the Nestea product placement, he said.

“But we really want to let Rob, in this case, do what he does best, which is tell great stories and work out how and where the brand comes to play in a unique and creative way,” Death said.

In one scene in “CTRL,” Nestea is spilled on the main character’s keyboard, unlocking special powers.

“It’s all about being organic to the experience,” said Lyles, who is Coca-Cola North America’s vice president of media and interactive marketing. “It should be part of the experience as they watch the Webisode.”

“CTRL” also had to fit into a broader Nestea marketing campaign, tagged “Liquid Awesomeness,” she said. Billboards, print ads and in-store displays also are part of the campaign, but Nestea has no plans for traditional TV.

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