It might have been the least expected Super Bowl win ever–not just the Patriots historically dramatic comeback–but the fact National Geographic had what many considered the best big game ad of 2017, a promo for its new show Genius, about Albert Einstein, starring Geoffrey Rush.
Now for its latest marketing push around the show, it’s honoring the life, inspiration, and imagination of Einstein in 10 short films. The network and agency Pereira O’Dell worked with show director Sam Spiegel for two headlining films, The Instrument and The Mirror. Then for the eight remaining episodes, they partnered with the Tongal filmmaking community–a crowd-sourcing platform that connects brands with creatives–to give new filmmakers a chance to contribute.
Andy Baker, SVP global creative director of National Geographic channels, says that the “10 Days of Genius” Film Festival idea is a result of knowing that TV audiences are a sophisticated bunch. Trailers and traditional promos are great, but there are more creative ways to attract viewers. These short films are connected to Genius in concept and spirit rather than a direct reference–and Baker says it’s important that they can stand on their own, while still tying back to the show.
“What makes these content extensions more interesting is that they don’t simply exist to push people to the linear TV network to watch the show. Yes, that’s awesome if it happens, but it may not always be realistic,” says Baker. “The extensions become more of a multi-platform brand play, too. As long as those audiences are engaging with our brand, and seeing that it is relevant and entertaining and telling great stories, no matter which platform it’s on, that’s a good thing. So we have been creating these additional storytelling tools as a way to reach new audiences, tell new stories, and not just sit back and rely on the same tactics that we did 10 years ago. In the same way that peoples’ media consumption patterns have changed, we have to evolve how we get their attention.”
While the show’s Super Bowl stealing spot was created with McCann New York, this time the network teamed up with agency Pereira O’Dell. The executive creative director Dave Arnold says the idea started with a collection of short films that answered a simple brief: imagination is more important than knowledge.
“As we got closer to production, we decided to focus our resources on Instrument and Mirror, but in the edit as we were seeing the potential of the films, Andy suggested sharing the brief with Tongal to build on our platform,” says Arnold. “We asked their community to interpret Albert Einstein’s most creative quotes with very few rules. The rest has been a true creative experiment.”
Now that we’re in an era of prestige TV, where many series are getting the talent, attention (and often, budgets) of feature films, Arnold says the marketing around these shows should reflect the same level of sophistication.
“The networks are very good at trailers and tune-in promos, so it becomes important for outside creatives to think about awareness around an entertainment property,” says Arnold. “Taking a step back and thinking about the logline of a show the same way you would a traditional brief. What’s the big storytelling opportunity and what are the interesting parallel paths to get there?”
Baker says declarations of the 30-second ad’s demise have been premature, but networks still need to think far beyond it. “The key to marketing any show or product now is to expand beyond relying just on the 30-second spot or poster art. You need to think about innovation, storytelling, short formats, long formats, events, experiences,” says Baker. “That is what will get attention, get shared, get seen. Ultimately, you need your fans to become marketers for your brand, and that requires extra creative effort. And that’s what could get people to actually watch your content.”