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Is Hulu’s new ad campaign brain-spray awesome or not?

CMO Kelly Campbell on why now is a good time to talk about Hulu’s place in an ever-growing market of streamers.

Is Hulu’s new ad campaign brain-spray awesome or not?
Samira Wiley [Photo: courtesy of Hulu]

It’s been almost a decade since Alec Baldwin appeared on your TV during the 2009 Super Bowl to announce Hulu as a streaming service/alien brain-eating platform.

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Back then, Hulu was ahead of the curve on the idea that people would stream full-length shows and movies. Today it’s the future of entertainment consumption, and the entire media and entertainment business is entering the fray. Hulu is just one of a growing body of cord-cutting options. The streaming pioneer has spent the last few years building up and marketing its content library and capabilities, adding award-winning prestige TV like The Handmaid’s Tale, and expanding into live TV.

Now the brand is using the Emmys to reintroduce itself to audiences, tapping some of its celebrity roster to remind us that it’s more than just TV.

The ad, which will debut on TV during the awards show on NBC, is part of the platform’s new campaign, what CMO Kelly Campbell calls a brand refresh. Refresh may be an overstatement, seeing as the spot utilizes a similarly celebrity-fueled, goofy sense of humor that marked its initial Baldwin campaign. Hulu has dipped into its celebrity rolodex, getting Samira Wiley (The Handmaid’s Tale), Sarah Silverman (I Love You, America), Sofia Vergara (Modern Family), Miles Brown (Black-ish), Houston Rockets star James Harden, and Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff to appear. The brand has also described it as being provocative, but it’s hardly that. The reverse-psychology joke is actually reminiscent of its competitor’s “Netflix is a joke” campaign. As broad, wide-net entertainment marketing goes, it’s tough to go wrong with celebrities making jokes, and this is a solid if pretty standard example.

Campbell, who joined from Google last year because of the service’s potential and its OG status in streaming video, says the success of winning Emmys and Golden Globes–as well as growing its subscriber base to more than 20 million and viewers’ time spent by 50% over the last year–hinted it was time to reexamine who the brand was and how it spoke to its audience.

“We took a step back and asked if people really know what Hulu is all about,” says Campbell. “While we found people do have a really strong association with Hulu and television–our research found we were as strongly associated with TV as Hershey’s was with chocolate–we saw that we needed to work on helping our audience understand all Hulu has to offer, but also that they feel enough of a connection to Hulu to stick with us.”

James Harden [Photo: courtesy of Hulu]
“I obviously wasn’t here for the Alec Baldwin campaign, but taking it back to the roots and legacy of the brand was interesting to me,” says Nick Tran, Hulu’s VP of brand and culture marketing, who Campbell recruited from Samsung Electronics. “They took an insight and flipped it on its head, and that’s what we’re doing here, too. The Baldwin spot played on the myth that TV rots your brain. We wanted to nod back to that with the idea that better ruins everything. And everyone in the ad represents a different part of our content, between network TV, original programs, and sports.”

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Hulu may have picked the perfect time to jump back into its own branding, as competition starts to heat up with services from Disney and WarnerMedia, which is expected within the next year or so.

“We’ve spent the last six to eight months really digging into our brand–with brand positioning work, focus groups, lexicon work on the language we use, market segmentation to dig into who our audience is, and how they behave,” says Campbell. “Which got us to a place where we were ready to reintroduce ourselves to the market with a robust brief with clarity of who we are as a brand. My hope is this is a moment we provoke people to take another look at Hulu, and this campaign is a first step in building a deeper connection with our audience.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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