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  • Posted by: Lindsay Beltzer on Tuesday, July 15 2014 04:25 PM | Comments (0)

    Orange Is the New Black cast

    When the critically acclaimed show (now Emmy-nominated) Orange Is the New Black premiered on Netflix last July, it broke new ground. More than proving that audiences are hungry for “binge worthy” content, it moved characters of diverse identities and cultural backgrounds from the periphery of television drama to center stage. 

    Beyond the show’s provocative storylines, the way Netflix has marketed the series has been equally compelling. Netflix has illustrated, once again, that the right marketing mix and choice of channels are only as powerful as the brand and stories behind them. 

    Netflix took traditional marketing by storm in New York City (where the story takes place) covering city buses, subway station platforms, and telephone posts with OITNB advertisements—even blanketing the entire front façade of a SoHo building with video advertisements. 

    In a more strategic—and cause-related—effort, Netflix partnered with member-shopping site Gilt.com and the non-profit organization, Dress for Success, to provide professional attire to disadvantaged women. Drawing inspiration from an OITNB episode when a rep from Dress for Success offers wardrobe advice to the inmates, the real-life partnership featured the OITNB cast posing in chic workwear, offered at Gilt’s discount designer prices. For every item it sold, an item was donated to Dress for Success. 

    Orange Is the New Black cast Dressed for Success

    Netflix and OITNB then partnered with the radio-streaming platform, Pandora. Instead of just streaming the show’s soundtrack, Netflix went a step further by curating individual character stations, giving listeners the chance to customize various character playlists. For example, Piper Chapman, the character at the center of OITNB, favors the avant-garde and gloomy sounds of artists such as Lana Del Rey, Billie Holiday, and Nada Surf. The result? An authentic and inspiring expression of a character sentenced to 15 months in a women’s federal prison, reflecting Piper’s distance from the privilege and comfort of her pre-prison Park Slope lifestyle. 

    While brands are continuing to crack the code on “native advertising,” Netflix & OITNB’s sponsored ad in The New York Times garnered plenty of positive attention. Integrating video and interactive charts, it leveraged the narrative and landscape of the show to open up a broader discussion about female incarceration in the U.S. According to Professor Mike McKean at Missouri School of Journalism, what set the piece apart from other native advertising campaigns is its quality. McKean says, “The likelihood of clicking away before you scroll down and read much content is a lot higher than the average piece of native content. This is not average.”   

    Orange Is the New Black NYT Netflix sponsored ad

    So, what can brands learn from the sum of Netflix’s efforts? 

    1. Strategic brand partnerships are a powerful way to extend the reach of your story.
    2. Smart use of platforms and channels hinge on the clarity and authenticity of a brand.
    3. Going against the grain can be a good thing. Strong brands aren’t afraid to take the lead, but always invite the consumer into the brand experience. 
    4. Content is still king: unearthing the core of your brand story and learning to tell it in ways that move and excite new audiences is vital to success. 

    From bringing characters of diverse walks of life into the mainstream, to placing bold bets on branded-content, OITNB has been a trailblazer in more ways than one. It has illuminated injustices and humanized the stereotyped as effectively as it’s won over countless viewers—and, for all its impact, it might just win an Emmy, too.       

    Lindsay Beltzer is a Senior Associate on Interbrand’s Global Marketing & Communications team. You can follow her on Twitter @LindsayBeltzer.


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  • Posted by: Rob Meyerson on Wednesday, January 29 2014 06:57 PM | Comments (0)

    Ace HotelCreated in 1999 by Alex Calderwood, who passed away last November, Ace Hotel is famous for disrupting the hospitality industry with a fresh identity catering to the “creative class.” Countless books, articles, and blog posts have already extolled the strengths of that identity (and Portlandia has mocked its eccentricities). 

    For example, according to a 2010 post on this blog, the brand’s approach to co-branding and partnerships is “endlessly creative” and “always perfect.” Gawker quotes the co-founder of review site Mr & Mrs Smith: “I can't think of another hotel group with such a strong brand and all-pervading identity – everything from the cocktails to the cleaning signs is unmistakeably Ace." On a recent trip to New York, this author had the pleasure of staying at Ace Hotel.

    The room’s artwork (local artist) was impressive, as were the vintage-style furnishings (Smeg fridge, reclaimed mirrors) and carefully selected brand partnerships (Fred bottled water, Pearl+ soap-on-a-rope). But it’s more than art, music, and hipster-friendly ephemera that surrounds the guest at Ace; painted on the walls, printed on signs, handwritten onto the bill, words also permeate one’s stay. And it’s through these words—through the brand’s voice—that the hotel’s personality shines brightest.

    You Are HereIt starts with an amusing, reassuring welcome note on the front doormat: “You are here.” Once inside, signs at the elevators remind guests, “If you took the stairs you would be there already.” 

    Many other hotels have exploited the “Do not disturb” sign as an opportunity for brand expression; Ace provides a “Not now” magnet stuck to the room’s metal door. In the room, clothes hangers assert, “You look good in that,” seals on the minibar liquor predict, “This will be your drink,” and under the towel rack, a painted message quips, “Want a fresh towel? Leave it in the tub. No tub? Leave it in the shower. No shower? Leave it in the sink. No sink? Leave it on the floor. No floor? Leave.”

    This is Ace’s distinctive style of writing—informal, quirky, irreverent, witty, and blunt. Clearly, it’s not appropriate for every brand in every industry. But it would be a mistake to disregard Ace as nothing more than an extreme case and assume other brands can’t benefit from this approach. Poignant or playful, rash or reserved—just as public speakers must “find their voice” if they wish to be heard and remembered, so must every brand. As with people, having less of an “in your face” personality is not the same as—nor is it an excuse for—having no personality at all.

    In a 2011 interview with The New York Times, Calderwood explained, “There’s a lot of pieces of the puzzle. It is not just an interesting design, it is not just the right choice of typeface, it is not finding the right executives or team — it is all those pieces of the puzzle.” At Ace Hotel New York, the completed puzzle is that much richer because the brand’s voice colors every piece, first to last. In one more demonstration of that unique sense of humor, the visit ended with a handwritten note at the bottom of the bill, stating simply, “Thank you for sleeping with us.”

    Rob Meyerson is Director, Verbal Identity, for Interbrand San Francisco.

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  • Posted by: Kenneth Johnston on Thursday, July 29 2010 10:16 AM | Comments (0)

    An exciting new addition to London’s street furniture finally hits the road this week. The London bike hire scheme or 'Barclays Cycle Hire' goes live on Friday. The initiative encourages users to enjoy the city from a different perspective. Hopefully it will. Cycling around the city can be much more refreshing than a sticky summer tube ride!

    In terms of brand collaboration I think it’s an interesting partnership. Similar initiatives include O2, which acquired the millennium dome and used it to associate the brand with great entertainment and priority ticketing tie-ins. Additionally, British Airways had a great tourism tie in offering flights on the British Airways London Eye, now owned by Merlin Entertainment.

    I wonder what long term benefits will arise from Barclays Cycle Hire beyond just a strong and consistent city presence and the good will the brand is likely to elicit by helping people zip around the city in an environmentally friendly way.


    This scheme isn’t designed for long commutes, but hopefully more bikes on London's streets will result in our city becoming more cycle friendly. Mayor Boris Johnson has consistently been pro cycling since taking office, even hitting the headlines in a near miss incident with a truck whilst inspecting potential sites for his new cycle 'superhighways'. I look forward to seeing one of these on a route near me soon.

    Barclays Cycle Hire comes at quite a hefty price – an annual subscription and hourly hire charges. Prices have been compared to a similar launch in Canada and are more expensive than our European neighbours.

    The one risk with the scheme is the safety issues arising from roads overcrowded with novice cyclists not wearing proper safety gear. I can picture the frustration of our cab drivers as I write; they're vocal enough about regular cyclists let alone tourists and novice users, wobbling about on the shiny new bikes with their big baskets. Also it’s great to launch the bikes in the summertime, however they may be a little less popular during the cold wet winter months.

    Ultimately though, as an avid cyclist, I think Barclays Cycle Hire is a welcome addition to our progressive world-class city. I look forward to trying a Barclays’ bike out next time I fancy an impromptu cycle in the city.

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  • Posted by: Andrew Martschenko on Monday, May 24 2010 04:33 PM | Comments (0)

    On Thursday, Toyota announced a partnership with Tesla motors. Toyota will be investing US $50 million into Tesla, as well as providing engineering and production systems for the development of electric vehicles.

    The announcement sends a strong signal that the global automaker has a vested, long-term commitment to driving the industry.

    Good leaders take the time to reflect on their mistakes and respond with a strategy that not only protects their position, but also carves out new spaces. If anything, Toyota’s slow public response to addressing highly visible product flaws has served as a catalyst to take real, demonstrative action.


    With this agreement, both companies win. Tesla gets the necessary capital, structure and visibility while Toyota has an opportunity to inject a fresh jolt of entrepreneurial spirit. For Toyota, in particular, this arrangement should have a continued calming effect with its most vocal critics even if some may see this as a quick fix to a lagging public relations problem.

    And yet, the partnership is not without its own set of challenges—the first being cultural. Toyota operates with a geographically dispersed, top-down, command and control culture while the Silicon-Valley based, Tesla, has a more flexible, innovative approach. Both companies will need to find middle ground to make the alliance work.

    Additionally, the category shift is still in its early stages. Every major carmaker is focused on coming up with a cleaner technology solution and many are even beginning to bring their early ideas to market. The stakes are high and Toyota will need to work hard to differentiate its brand.

    What is important to remember here is Toyota’s track record. The brand has held up to intense media and government scrutiny, and as its success with the Prius attests, when Toyota is focused on something, it has a history of making it work. The Toyota brand and its products may be slightly tarnished, but if the organization executes this correctly, Toyota will have effectively turned a negative into a positive—and that is what leaders and strong global brands do.

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