NEW YORK: Brand owners such as Kmart, Budweiser and Toyota are making increased use of online shows to engage US consumers.

Kmart, the retailer, recently backed a web series called First Day 2: First Dance, a comedy running on sites like Facebook over six instalments, and mainly targeted at girls in their teens.

The personalities, and wardrobes, of the characters featured in First Day 2 are supposed to reflect those of various Kmart brands, and the firm had a major input on the plotlines used.

Such a scheme follows the original First Day series, which logged 10m views across eight episodes. Both were made with Alloy Entertainment, a company which worked on Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries last year.

"Our goal here is to be real and authentic, and to embed our brands into the storyline," Andrew Stein, VP, marketing for Sears Holdings, the parent of Kmart, told the Wall Street Journal.

"There was a lot of work we did around language, and trying to make sure we spoke in a teen's language, but also that there was no swearing, no sex."

Elsewhere, Budweiser, the beer brand, partnered with Radical, a "transmedia" production company, on The Big Time, where contestants vie for the chance to fulfil a personal ambition.

Budweiser has held talks with some broadcast networks about the possibility of airing the seven episodes, each of which is 44 minutes in duration, for free, and intends to make them available online.

Jorge Inda Meza, Budweiser's global director of marketing, said: "It flips the model to content that people seek out and stay connected to for longer than a traditional spot."

Toyota, the automaker, is also sponsoring exclusive online material, lasting around five minutes, linked to episodes of Bravo's reality series "Top Chef".

Each clip was filmed in just 45 minutes, compared with two days for the actual show, and requires a fraction of the cost of making either a full TV programme or buying primetime TV spots.

"We are always looking for ways to create a positive recall of our brand," Dionne Colvin, national marketing media manager for Toyota Motor Sales, USA, said. "We've found the best way to do that is being involved early on in the production."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff