Wednesday, March 31, 2010

stella artois launches story via social media

At the same time as ad agencies are being lambasted for not getting social media, one agency, Mother, is launching a brand fiction campaign that involves use of twitter, Facebook, youtube, flickr, and oh yes, print.

The campaign is for Stella Artois, a Belgian brew sponsoring the Cannes Film Festival in May. (I refer, of course, to the film Cannes Festival, not to be confused with the Advertising Cannes for which the deadline has been extended to April 9, get yer entries here.)

The agency is developing narrative entertainment that conveys the brand's core qualities--expensive and smooth--through a character of their own invention: Jacques d'Azur, a French bon vivant from the 60s who spends most of his time on red carpets and yachts.

I first heard about Jacques when he tweeted @BettyDraper, asking why he'd never escorted her down the red carpet. Intrigued, I went to his twitter feed and discovered similar shout outs to twitter users with hefty followings.

A link jumped me to his Facebook where there are albums of photos of him in the 1960s, gallivanting Mad Man-ishly around the world. He's described as having been lost at sea after radio-ing a message from his yacht: “I have come across an undiscovered island. Amazingly all the inhabitants are beautiful women.” Consumers are invited to enter a contest to win "his" place at the Cannes Festival this year.

It's pretty obviously a brand setup from the moment you hit the Facebook Fan page where the Stella Artois logo is prominently displayed. But still⎯it's intriguing, much more so than traditional outreach for a contest would have been. Best part of the experience is Facebook Connect which cleverly integrates vistor's personal content into a video that incorporates name, profile pic, gender, marital status and geographic location. (Note to Mother's backoffice: I got tech glitch on gender; FB account I'd connected was female but program read male, hmmm.)

What's exciting to see is that the agency knows how to tell a brand story transmedia, delivering the fiction in forms created and produced for various environments. There's a fake Wikipedia entry for the character. A flickr collection of life-streaming photos . A mock newscast on youtube announcing his disappearance. And testimonials in which Rivierans (is that what they're called?) regret that Cannes won't be the same this year without Jacques. There's even a blog post that claims Jacques taught tennis to the teenaged Bill Gates.

But wait, kids, there's more! Even hand-held print ads (remember those?) are part of the mix. Ironically, the print execution is the least creative use of space, imho; if I hadn't seen the tweet, it probably wouldn't have gotten my attention. But if you've already been introduced to the campaign via social media, it works to extend the story into yet another dimension.

Yes, there are other ways in which the campaign isn't perfect. The TV spot running concurrently seems to bear no relation to the Jacques concept. Subsequent tweets to @BettyDraper were impersonal posts directing to the generic youtube announcement. In contrast to the campaign's very active twitter feed, the company's corporate feed sputtered out a single post referring to the campaign (which it seems to have posted twice by mistake) and has gone silent for weeks. And then, there's the engagement--or lack of it--factor.

Mother is adept at creating artful entertainment. The videos are exquisitely produced; studio-quality casting, acting, directing, setting, lighting which you might not expect to find in web content. The Facebook posts are clever, even hilarious. ("Do the easy jobs first. The hard jobs will be done by someone less good-looking.") But as any social media "guru" will tell you, creating content that entertains is different than creating content that elicits conversation. Jacques' twitter posts ask for "retweets" but the only ones RTing seem to be accounts set up for other faux characters in the campaign. Yes, Stella Artois Facebook page has over 200,000 followers, but Jacques has so far managed to smooth-talk only 400 of them to his place. And a glance at his wall shows that those truly engaging with him are others on the agency home team, using transparent stage names like Madamme Agathe Garbo. ("Wrong Madamme Agathe Garbo?" Facebook asks. Could there be another?)

But I'm not joining with naysayers on this one. I applaud Mother for venturing into uncharted waters, for floating out a new way to tell a brand story, for undertaking a campaign with so many treacherously moving pieces, and for imbuing a brand manager with courage to go along with the game.


C Tedrick said...

I love seeing fantastic integration across many platforms. My first thought however as I was reading this post was how similar in concept this sounded to "The Most Interesting Man in the World" campaign by Dos Equis. None-the-less, it's fun to see the creative social media usage.

Howie at Sky Pulse Media said...

What a fantastic tale! But I will say I became a fan of Stella because I like beer and its really good beer. Prefer it to Heineken. Premium is a tough niche because if you like good beer normally you spread your patronage around widely. As for Brand Fiction very well done!

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

@C Tedrick I'm impressed as well by how wide they're casting the Stella story net. As for Dos Equis similarity...personifying a brand with a suave older guy isn't unique to Dos Equis, is it? It's been done thru the ad ages. Since Hathaway Man and Commander Whitehead (Schweppes.) The difference w/ Stella is--the guy isn't there! He's conveyed thru his absence, which I think an interesting twist.

@Howie Salut, with whatever bottle you're hoisting tonight ;) Agreed--great example of brand fiction, creating a storyworld unified across platforms. Look forward to the next chapter.