Beer brand Fosters has shown an innovative streak recently with an interesting piece of branded content in the UK.

The brand has been trying to associate itself with comedy, and decided to go one step further than simple sponsorship or ad deals. It recently launched the Foster’s Funny website and began to show original short comedy videos it had funded. And in a major coup, it convinced actor Steve Coogan to reprise his character of hapless TV and radio personality Alan Partridge. (For readers outside the UK, Alan Partridge - catchphrase: ‘Aha!’ - was a hugely popular comedy character in the 90s, and made Coogan a household name.) The site featured a series of original pieces that revisited the character several years after his last appearance, uploaded to YouTube and rolled out of a series of weeks. For example:

The big question is, of course, did it work? And how would we know if it did?

Some interesting answers appeared in a piece in British newspaper The Guardian, based around an interview with the production company Baby Cow, owned by Coogan. It focuses on the implications of the deal for independent producers, which have come under financial pressure from falling TV budgets and are looking for new partnerships and commissioning models.

Some interesting statistics that emerged from the interview:

  • TV production costs for this kind of show range from £100,000 to £300,000 per half-hour. Foster’s investment in 12 short episodes is likely to be upwards of £600,000.
  • The first episode has gained more than 500,000 views so far. (Although that has tailed off for later episodes, it should be remembered that one of the benefits of online broadcasting is that audiences are built over time, not in a single hit.) Those viewing figures compare with a typical audience of 1.5 million to 2 million for new comedy shows on terrestrial channel Channel 4.
  • Baby Cow has been contacted by three broadcasters to run the show on ‘normal’ TV. The 12 webisodes would be consolidated into six longer episodes and resold to broadcasters, thus gaining TV-size audiences.

The last point is crucial. Under its deal with Baby Cow, Foster’s will receive a share of the proceeds from any resale of the content after the ‘campaign’ has come to an end. The head of Baby Cow even predicted the brand would “make all their money back”.

So the upshot could be zero net spend for Foster’s and, despite a relatively small audience, the PR boost and general goodwill effect of being the brand that succeeded in bringing back one of Britain’s best-loved comedy characters. All in all, it sounds like a much better deal than your standard sponsorship tie-up (though Foster’s does do that as well).

Fosters isn’t the first to conclude that marketing now involves the production of content, and that, if the content is good enough, it could lead to revenue streams that offset the original cost or even produce a profit. Coca-Cola’s Jonathan Mildenhall has for several years been talking about ‘transmedia storytelling’, and the fruits of its investment in content creation have been the ‘Happiness factory’ series of ads and branded pop songs that have been released in markets around the world.

What the Foster’s deal proves is that there are plenty of content creators out there who are willing to look at these models. There should be plenty more of this to come.