Guess what? Branded online entertainment does not have to suck.

by Jason Keath on May 09, 2012

Yes we are an insurance company.

Yes we created an awesome TV show about silicon valley.

Beginning in 2010, Hiscox Insurance has used custom branded entertainment to extend their direct advertising and create a true conversation with Leap Year, a web series about the ups and downs of a tech start-up.

The first season recently won a 2012 Silver Telly Award for Internet/Online Video: Comedy.

And the trailer for the second season debuted at Mashable Connect last week (see full trailer below).

Hiscox describes the series as being influenced by Shark Tank, The Social Network, Entourage, and How I Met Your Mother (or how I met your startup?).

In anticipation for the big launch of season two just over a month away, we spoke with Hunter Hoffmann, Head of Hiscox USA Communications, about their branded entertainment experience, and four key themes that emerged from the process.

1. Keep it relevant to your business.

You won’t find any direct Hiscox small business insurance product placement in the web series, but situations do arise that directly relate to problems small businesses owners face everyday, many of whom go without insurance.

“Start ups, entrepreneurs and small business owners are always on the lookout for brands trying to get to them through the backdoor, so we didn’t want to trick them, we wanted to actually create something that they would find entertaining, but also that we built from the ground up.” said Hoffmann.

“We developed the plot and story lines to not only resonate with out company’s target audience, but address risks that can be protected against with small business insurance.”

2. Let the content drive the conversation.

Hiscox chose to release Leap Year on Hulu because they understood that as a social media platform, high quality entertainment was already being consumed there. They were not trying to sell insurance, but simply create a conversation about business in a dramedy setting that you would watch in MadMen or The Office.

Strategic cameos including Eliza Dushku, Emma Caufield (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame), and real-world tech celebrities David Tisch and Alexis Ohanian (of Techstars and Reddit respectively,) add to the authenticity and value of the web series.

3. Create brand awareness through community.

Throughout the production and development of the show, Hiscox has had internal and external social media teams building community around Leap Year and HiscoxUSA on a variety of social channels.

This branded entertainment allows their social teams to create an affinity for Hiscox while taking situations from the show and educating potential consumers on the Leap Year Website, Hiscox blogs and social sites including Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

Additional support comes from the MyStartup Series, video interviews with the founders of today’s hottest tech startups that bring the viewer and the brand back into the real-world. The combination of community and compelling content opens up a new platform, curated and moderated by Hiscox, to talk about the situations within the show’s script.

4. Define and track success.

In season one, Hiscox’s benchmarks were total views, building a base of social followers, and “really making sure we were reaching the right audiences with this content” as Hoffmann put it.

Brand awareness and quality of conversation is key for the global insurer, driving qualified leads through bonafide interest and appreciation for the show from potential prospects.

Hoffmann continued by relating their own social strategy as a start-up within the global Hiscox corporation back to their show’s plot:

“Just like the C3D (the fictitious business in Leap Year,) last year was about creating the business and this year is about really making the business work and developing it; it’s the same for us.

Last year was about creating the critical mass on these social media platforms, and this year is about growing them — making these usable and valuable networks where people are engaged and more people are seeing and sharing our content.”

You can check out Hiscox’s Leap Year season two trailer below, and catch the season premiere on Hulu starting June 18th.

Photo Credit: Hiscox

Post Author

CEO and founder of Social Fresh, the social media education company. Jason is a social media consultant, a social media speaker and industry analyst. He consults with corporations and agencies on social media strategy, building community, and influencer...