AT&T, Comcast and Walt Disney aren’t the only big companies eager to get into streaming-video. Procter & Gamble, one of the world’s most influential advertisers, is looking to do the same.
P&G. the maker of Pampers, Crest and Bounty, among other popular supermarket staples, has struck a partnership with Stone Village Television, the production company behind such projects as NBC’s “Las Vegas” and the HBO miniseries “Empire Falls,” to launch a long-form scripted series aimed at boosting themes of gender equality, diversity and inclusion. One series in development, based on “I Am Keats!,” a self-help book by Tom Asacker that presses readers to find their inner passion and shake off roles imposed on them by society, is being readied for streaming-video outlets.
“This is the first one we are doing, but we are planning to do many of these with them,” says Dylan Russell, a co-founder of Stone Village, in an interview.
The consumer-products giant has in recent years shown more interest in fostering themes of inclusion and diversity, the better to keep pace with an American populace that encompasses more consumers from various backgrounds. In 2018, the company struck a deal with ABC to include a plotline in an episode of “Black-ish” about black parents helping their children deal with racial bias.
“At P&G, as the world’s largest advertiser, we feel we are uniquely positioned to make a positive impact and help create a world free from gender bias, with equal voice and equal representation for all individuals. That’s why we stand behind initiatives that drive equality in advertising and media. But we’re not stopping there – we’re seeking to create an integrated ecosystem that brings together advertising, journalism, filmmaking, music, comedy, and technology – to tell authentic stories that positively impact society and humanity,” says Dorion Positano, head of content and platform partnerships at P&G, via email. “The work we’re doing with Stone Village is one example. In some cases, P&G and its brands will be visible within the content we develop, and in some cases, we may only be visible on the periphery.”
Madison Avenue has grown increasingly concerned about the steady migration of consumers to streaming-video outlets, many of which run few commercials – and, sometimes, none. One solution may just be found in having advertisers create their own content for the new on-demand services.
To be sure, advertisers for years have sought to burnish their own products and messages by creating their own programming. In 2017, Nike Inc. commissioned a one-hour special chronicling three runners who used Nike products in their quest to run a marathon in less than two hours. The ad-free documentary ran on National Geographic Channel when it was still part of the company now known as Fox Corp. Arby’s in 2014 released a commercial about how it prepared meat that was 13 hours in length – and showed it online and on a small TV station in Duluth, Minnesota. Apple in 2017 released a three-minute-and-45 second short film on YouTube featuring actor Dwayne Johnson, and AT&T that year posted a 1 minute and 45-second ad touting its Taylor Swift video channel featuring the pop musician. And Holiday Inn in 2014 co-produced a series on HLN.
Getting this sort of content on streaming-video hubs like Netflix, Amazon Prime or others could become more paramount. As shoppers spend more time binge-watching and watching scripted programming on-demand, there is palpable hand-wringing among blue-chip advertisers over whether they will be able to reach as many potential customers through video as they did when most consumers watched TV based on the dictates of a weekly schedule.
Stone Village is currently producing “Station Eleven” for HBO Max and Paramount Television, based on the best-selling book by Emily St. John Mandel with showrunner Patrick Somerville and director Hiro Murai. The series stars Mackenzie Davis and Himesh Patel.
Coca-Cola has been among one of the biggest marketers to start experimenting with new ways to align with streaming activity. Last year, it struck a partnership with Netflix to help promote the debut of a new cycle of “Stranger Things,” and even went so far as to revive its ill-fated New Coke as part of the effort. Coca-Cola and P&G have tested ads on Hulu that surface on screen whenever a viewer elects to pause their video selection. Viewers have “added a new platform in how they are consuming content and stories,” Geoff Cottrill, senior vice president of strategic marketing for Coca-Cola North America, told Variety last year. “It’s an opportunity for us to find an interesting way to be there.”
P&G is no stranger to devising alluring TV programs. The company was a dominant force in the creation of TV soap operas, producing “Guiding Light” and “As The World Turns” for decades. It acquired the People’s Choice Awards in 1982 and ran that franchise for more than 20 years before selling the franchise to NBCUniversal’s E! cable network in 2017. And P&G last decade teamed up with Walmart to produce a series of family-focused movies like “Secrets of the Mountain” and “The Jensen Project” that aired on networks like NBC and Fox, part of an effort to respond to research showing consumers wanted TV options adults and kids could watch together.
“They are in a very unique position to understand what the market is for content, because they know who the market is for products, and so I think they understand the demographics have shifted quite a bit,” says Russell.
In the age of so-called “Peak TV,’ when consumers have dozens of series both old and new available to them at the touch of a remote, an advertiser can help in other ways, like getting the word out about the program. “We think about how to get people to pay attention to a show,” says Russell. “I think they have numerous platforms where they can support the production.”