Game Brands Expand Their Reach By Creating Original Content

Gaming households have enjoyed access to TV through apps on their favorite consoles for years, so it makes sense that console manufacturers would take the leap into show business. OTT and original programming create additional value for those investing in gaming hardware, as well as revenue streams for game brands through subscriptions and advertising.

Nielsen recently found that 42 percent of TV households in the US own a video game console, compared to enabled smart TVs (28.9 percent) and streaming devices like AppleTV, Amazon Fire TV or Chromecast (23.3 percent).

Cord-cutting is on the rise as consumers forego cable to watch content when and wherever they please. PlayStation Vue was Sony’s answer to this movement.

“We’re going after the PlayStation user who is today not watching TV, driving a large ratings decline and is at high risk [for abandoning the pay-TV ecosystem],” Sony Computer Entertainment Group CEO Andrew House told The Wall Street Journal when PlayStation Vue was announced in 2015.

PlayStation Vue has since expanded to include HBO, Cinemax and a 24/7 ESL esports channel.

Video game enthusiasts are less likely to engage with mainstream platforms like cable TV, according to recent findings by analyst firm SuperData. Twenty-seven percent of video game livestream viewers watch most often during weekday evenings, often replacing primetime TV; 20 percent of US gaming video content (GVC) streamers are “cord-cutters,” SuperData found, compared to eight percent of the general US population.

In addition to offering OTT services, Sony keeps trying its hand at original programming, but PlayStation shows have yet to find their stride. It all began with The Tester in 2010 and then Powers in 2015. Powers, a series based on a comic of the same name, was a haven for product placement—gaining partners like Rolex, Dos Equis, and of course, Sony products galore. The show was canceled after two seasons, despite outperforming all other shows on PSN at the time.

Sony isn’t giving up, however, and is on the lookout for up-and-coming filmmakers to try again.

But what kind of an audience will they be serving to? Forty percent of Gen Z and 38 percent of millennials who subscribe to cable or satellite say they have plans to cancel their service in favor of an online-only option, according to Nielsen. Game consoles make it easy to make the switch, and PwC predicts that OTT and streaming subscription VOD revenue will grow to $10.4 billion by 2020.

Xbox found success with the documentary Atari: Game Over in 2014 and soon announced plans for Xbox Originals—a series of original programming exclusive to the gaming console. Since Every Street United, a documentary about aspiring football players premiered in 2015, however, all other announced projects have been stuck in “production hell,” as it were.

Apple, while not a console in the traditional sense, is certainly a gaming platform that has found success with its first original show, Planet of the Apps. Apple’s first step into branded content gives developers a shot at winning $10 million in funding and a top spot on the app store.

Excited app developers mean more apps, and more apps mean more shared revenue for Apple.

‘Castlevania’ Sinks Its Teeth Into A Lucrative Cross-Over Market

The Castlevania animated series has officially premiered on Netflix. Although only four episodes long, this R-rated tale of man versus vampire has garnered enough approval from the fans that Netflix immediately ordered a season two.

Inspired by Konami’s classic video game series, Castlevania is a dark medieval fantasy following the last surviving member of the disgraced Belmont clan who must save Eastern Europe from extinction at the hand of Dracula.

In May, Netflix teased the new series with a trailer—the beginning of which was created on an original Nintendo cartridge.

The show’s producer, Adi Shanker, will also bring an Assassin’s Creed animated series to Netflix soon. As a gamer, Shanker feels that video game adaptations tend to be poorly received because those who make them don’t understand the “language” of games.

“Video games are a new and fairly complex language,” Shanker told Mic. “You have to organically have learned the language and if you’re a gamer, then the language comes second nature to you. Older people who have in the past adapted games play the games as research, but you can’t learn the appeal.”

Other game publishers like Microsoft and EA have released films in the Japanese anime style such as Halo: Legends, Dead Space and Dante’s Inferno to promote their IPs. 3D animation is another popular style employed by publishers like Square Enix (Final Fantasy) and Capcom (Resident Evil). In fact, Capcom released Biohazard: Vendetta this summer—the third in a series that, unlike the live-action films, takes place within the Resident Evil/Biohazard video game universe. Additionally, Square Enix released the computer animated movie Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV to coincide with the launch of the Final Fantasy XV game last year, with both taking place in the same setting and story. Some editions of Final Fantasy XV had the film bundled with it.

Perhaps it is because so many classic games originated in Japan that anime and video games often cross over well. Final Fantasy, Persona, Pokémon, Yo Kai Watch and Naruto are all examples of a Japanese aesthetic that carries over from one genre to another with relative ease.

Rapidly growing distribution platforms such as Crunchyroll, Daisuki, Amazon’s Anime Strike and Netflix resulted in a phenomenal rise of anime distribution in markets beyond Japan—especially the United States—throughout 2016.

The Japanese animation industry is experiencing its fourth “Anime Boom,” according to The Association of Japanese Animations. This boom can be attributed to increases in market channels including internet distribution over the past decade.

The global anime market reached ¥1.8 trillion ($15.9 billion) in 2016, a 12 percent increase over the previous year. Meanwhile, the video game market reached $99.6 billion last year, so the Japanese animation industry is probably more than happy to share an engaged and passionate fan base.

‘Millionaire’s Run’ Promo Will Literally Turn Someone Into A Millionaire

In an effort to invigorate the “endless runner” genre—and prove that Nintendo’s Mario isn’t the only one who gets to run and jump to collect coins—Australian entrepreneurs Grant Moyle and Todd Wild came up with the idea for Millionaire’s Run while on a business trip in Kolkata, India. There, they were playing mobile games and began discussing what the ultimate prize for a mobile game should be. Five years later, Millionaire’s Run was created in partnership with Code Heroes studio.

The mobile game where players must dash, jump or ride a motorcycle through a massive coin vault while dodging the “Police-O-Lanche” begins its beta period Friday with an official launch for iOS and Android on July 13. Players have extra incentive to download the free-to-play game, as there is a cash prize competition that starts today to coincide with the game’s debut. Top-scoring players from around the world will have a chance at a $1,000 cash pot each week with a $1 million grand prize at the contest’s conclusion.

“The Millionaire’s Run global game competition will run for six months throughout 2017, with the ultimate winner announced on New Year’s Eve,” Grant Moyle, the co-creator and managing director of Millionaire’s Run, told AListDaily. “Our game promotions will predominantly be through social media, online press and promo, as well as a viral digital video campaign. We also feel Millionaire’s Run is the world’s first mobile game to offer a prize of this magnitude and will drive a lot of word-of-mouth.”

The game will sell in-game boosts, which essentially amounts to extra lives to help players that fall continue their runs. However, players are only allowed five of them per run to maintain competitive fairness. Moyle stated that if the game is successful, we could see a second round of the Millionaire’s Run contest.

Although cash prizes make for very good reasons to play, Moyle explained how there are other reasons players may stay engaged with the game.

“The game has a fun, addictive quality about it, which leads to a desire to want to achieve the high score. The second iteration of the game would look at developing the hero character, investigating 3D aspects and expanding storylines. That being said, the core offering of this game is the prize, and I would see that is always core to its future,” Moyle said.

Moyle also detailed how the million-dollar launch promotion came together.

“The idea was conceived fairly early on in regards to the app store generating mass appeal to the global market,” said Moyle. “It was clear to us that there were very few products that had that level of global reach within a single distribution model and limited cost base. We asked ourselves a simple question—’how do we encourage as many people as possible to download a game app with an experience they would want to keep going back to?’ The answer was simple—’give them a million dollars!’ Thus, we started the idea of Millionaire’s Run from there.”

Amazon Game Studios Takes Esports Competition To The High Seas

Amazon Game Studios is taking esports to where it’s never been before. In a partnership with the Royal Dutch Navy, Red Bull Esports and AMD, pro teams Echo Fox and Rogue will go head-to-head to play Breakaway—a squad-based brawler where players take the roles of mythic heroes to compete against each other—aboard a naval battleship at sea. All of the high-seas action can be seen on the Red Bull Esports Twitch channel on Monday, June 26 at 3 p.m. ET.

The Battle on the High Seas event was announced last week via an official Breakaway blog post with a live action trailer that demonstrates some of the fast paced gameplay onboard the Royal Dutch Navy battleship. To win, teams must either take control of a golden orb (called a Relic) and bring it to the opponent’s base to score, or completely eliminate the opposing team’s players. Matches are limited to four minutes to keep the action going and the intensity high, which is magnified with the exhibition game’s exciting real-life setting. Viewers can also look forward to prizes, with Rogue running a sweepstake to give away four AMD Ryzen processors and 2,000 Breakaway alpha keys to promote the event.

Talking with AListDaily, David Silverman, head of marketing at Amazon Game Studios Orange County, explained how this partnership to bring esports aboard a battleship came together.

“It all started with the Royal Dutch Navy—they were looking for ways to incorporate competitive gaming into Sail Den Helder, an annual gathering of the largest tall ships in the world,” said Silverman. “After hearing a TEDx talk from our head of esports, Jonathan Pan, they approached him with this awesome opportunity.”

Silverman then talked about how Red Bull became involved. “Red Bull’s approach to esports, specifically their focus on community tournaments and the way they let players—rather than their own brand—take center stage in their marketing, really resonated with us. They liked our approach to competitive gaming too, so we decided to work together, starting with a Breakaway playtest at their Santa Monica studios. We started working with Echo Fox and Rogue around the same time.”

As for AMD and Razer, Silverman said, “we’ve worked closely with AMD since we unveiled Breakaway. They are passionate about gaming and we love working with them. Razer helped sponsor our USC vs. UCLA exhibition match a few months back, and was also great to work with. We’re thrilled to see all these pieces come together for Battle on the High Seas.”

When asked what inspired this event, Silverman replied, “It sounded like an incredibly cool opportunity, and we thought it was something our community would think was a lot of fun.” The tournament will be played inside of the battleship so that the heavy North Sea winds won’t interfere with the competition, and the casters will be on the second deck.

We also asked Silverman how the battleship will be featured in the event and whether sailors from the Dutch Royal Navy will be involved.

“The Battle on the High Seas is happening during Sail Den Helder, and the ship we’ll be in, The Holland, will lead 150+ ships when we all sail out to sea to conclude the event,” said Silverman. “Four sailors will participate in the undercard match, and the Navy is also providing two drone operators to help film the event.”

So, what makes Breakaway the ideal game for an esports competition on the high seas? “Breakaway is a team battle sport that focuses on sport and intensity,” Silverman explained. “The competitive nature of Breakaway has attracted a lot of teams who are looking for something that has a similar skill gap to the games they currently play, but resolves in just a couple minutes.

“In addition to the fast gameplay, we built Breakaway to be just as fun to watch as it is to play. We’ve been hosting weekly broadcasts on Twitch since we announced the game at TwitchCon last year, and for the launch of our June alpha, we thought this event would be a great way to kick things off for our European players who now have dedicated EU servers online. Hopefully, this is the start of bringing high-intensity competition to cool and unique venues. If this goes well, maybe there will be a Breakaway Battle in the Skies or Breakaway Battle in Space!”

‘Call Of Duty: WWII’ Engages Fans With High-Flying Activation And More

Call of Duty: WWII, developed by Sledgehammer Games and published by Activision, marks a return to roots by bringing players back to the war that started the entire franchise. It is a highly anticipated entry in the franchise, considering how its past few games have taken players to the future and outer space. Activision debuted the game’s multiplayer modes and gameplay at this year’s E3, giving attending fans their first chance to try the game out well before its launch in November.

NBA star and celebrity spokesperson Karl-Anthony Towns made appearances at Activision’s E3 booth to further spur excitement on the show floor, but the real spectacle would happen high up in the sky. On the opening day of E3, two groups of World War II-era planes flew over the Los Angeles Convention Center to promote the upcoming game. The two flybys made multiple passes over the South Hall of the convention center, flying approximately 800-1,000 feet off the ground. The first group included a C-53 transport plane while the second squadron included AT-6 planes based in Van Nuys, California.

AListDaily spoke with Todd Harvey, SVP of marketing at Activision, about what inspired the high-flying activation.

“Historical authenticity is a central tenet in Sledgehammer Games’ development philosophy for Call of Duty: WWII and a cornerstone of our marketing efforts,” said Harvey. “In addition to the planned activities within the convention center, we were passionate about finding a way to respectfully extend our presence to the conference attendees outside. The activation was a great way add impact to the show while celebrating the history of World War II aviation.”

So, what was involved with getting this activation off the ground, so to speak?

“In order to pull off the flybys of E3 using vintage World War II planes, we carefully coordinated with a handful of Southern California aviation preservationist groups such as the Condor Squadron based nearby in Van Nuys,” Harvey explained. “These groups are made up of passionate individuals who devote much of their time to preserve and fly vintage planes, many from the era. There was a shared interest to participate because of the relevance to Call of Duty this year, and also because it was a chance to share their passion with the new generation of gaming fans.

“In terms of the activation itself, working with these aviators, we coordinated a safe, but exciting flight plan that would be fun for a viewer on the ground.”

Although the flyby was one of the key highlights of the show, we couldn’t overlook how packed the Activision show floor booth was since the event was open to the public this year. Fans waited in long lines to be among the first to play Call of Duty: WWII. We asked Harvey how E3 compared to engaging with audiences at other public events.

“E3 differs from most of our public events in that it’s primarily an industry conference,” said Harvey. “While the information needs of the attendees are at times different than the general public, at the end of the day, the steps we take to drive engagement doesn’t differ greatly from our other public events. Being informative and entertaining is important to all audiences. This year, the general public attended E3 for the first time, and the presence of consumers didn’t change our plans in any substantive way.”

Harvey also detailed how Karl-Anthony Towns became involved with Call of Duty’s promotion. “We first met Karl-Anthony during Call of Duty’s release in 2015, and more recently sponsored him last year during our fan celebration event, Call of Duty XP,” he said. “His knowledge of Call of Duty’s history and interest in the various aspects of gameplay is impressive. This year, with our return to the Call of Duty franchise’s roots in World War II, we felt E3 would be a great opportunity to sponsor his appearance and host him here at the show. He was able to spend time with and play Call of Duty: WWII and met some of the team. He was great to work with, and an absolute pleasure.”

In addition to its E3 showing, Activision further engaged with its community by bringing the Making of Call of Duty livestream series back to Facebook Live last week. Hosted by actress Alison Haislip, developers at Sledgehammer Games provided an in-depth look at newly revealed multiplayer modes through the fan-focused livestream. The first episode debuted episode in May and more are expected to release during the lead-up to Call of Duty: WWII’s launch.

“Delivering this program in a live broadcast where our team can engage directly with fans to share insights of the choices they make, and provide an authentic look of what goes into producing a title like Call of Duty is what this is all about,” Activision CMO Tim Ellis said in a statement. “Making Call of Duty is another critical step in connecting deeply with our community. It follows the reveal in April, which was the most watched livestream in franchise history. We’re bringing a new level of engagement to fans where they can consume and interact directly.”

W Hotels Gamifies Its Newest Location With ‘Belle The Bear’

W Hotels has always marched to the beat of its own marketing drum, and now it has added a video game to its list of out-of-the-box campaigns. Belle the Bear is a retro-inspired mobile game that celebrates the grand opening of the new W Bellevue hotel in Seattle.

“Bellevue is a gamer’s city, so we thought it would be fun to tap into that energy but with a W twist,” Anthony Ingham, W Hotels Worldwide global brand leader said in a statement. “Creating Belle the Bear, a throwback game with an innovative edge, is just another example of how we are constantly looking for new ways to engage with future W fans on their own turf.”

Belle the Bear has players traversing an 8-bit world Frogger-style on their journey to a virtual W Bellevue hotel. This Seattle-themed adventure features a few special roadblocks to keep things interesting, such as a cannabis leaf that turns Belle into a gummy bear and cocktails that reverse the in-game controls.

Through July 15, top-scoring US gamers can compete for glory and prizes, including a trip for two to Seattle, where they will stay in the Extreme WOW Suite, dinner, wine tasting and a seaplane tour of western Washington. To help spread the word and celebrate its newest hotel, W has enlisted the help of social media stars.

“We are reaching out to influencers in the lifestyle and gaming space, posting the game link on our social channels and announcing the news globally in our news center,” Ingham told AListDaily. “The game also has built-in social sharing options, so participants can post their latest high score directly to their personal social channels. We think the news will spread organically, as it often does with fun new games.”

W Hotels joins a growing list of brands using games to promote and engage its audience. Following the release of Under Armour’s It Comes From Below ad campaign, a tie-in game was created for Snapchat that challenged fans to navigate Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton through a forest of obstacles. Netflix created an 8-bit endless runner game to highlight its lineup of original programming and Gatorade celebrated the 2016 US Open with a Snapchat game starring tennis champ Serena Williams. Additionally, NBC Universal turned to a variety of experiential campaigns to promote the launch of The Mummy, including a standalone VR stunt experience and a separate VR video game called The Mummy: Prodigium Strike, developed by Starbreeze (John Wick Chronicles).

It’s Not Just Screens: A Look At E3’s Coolest Activations

 

Sandwiched between the big-screened, live esports broadcasts and hours-long lines of gamers waiting to play, a few vendors engaged the new flow of E3 visitors with activations that were less digital blitz and more physical.

Nyko Technologies invited attendees to play games while testing new controllers from the comfort of a large, branded ball pit, an activation the company had wanted to execute for years. “With opening up to the public this year, it’s the perfect opportunity to have something that’s so engaging and interactive,” said Nyko exhibitor Surabhi Srivastava. “We wanted to have a slide that goes into the ball pit, but there were a lot of waivers around the design.”

Fans who played the “Super Mario Odyssey” demo walked away with Cappy, Mario’s new co-star.

Sonic Mania brought people into the game with a trampoline, a large ring hovering from above, and a green screen. Those who fit the criteria to play get on the apparatus (18+, under 250 pounds, not pregnant) and dared to do the #SonicRingJump entered a sweepstakes to win $1,000, and walked away with a four-second video.

Enormous, detailed displays were in no short supply, with large character replicas acting as guardians to the game lines—most notably, Super Mario Odyssey‘s Mario and Cappy, his new manipulative accomplice, and several large dragons, including the beast at Monster Hunter World.

For a transformative experience, the physical installation showcasing PS4’s Yakuza 6: Game of Life, was a standout, bringing attendees through Tokyo’s red-light district.

Returning to the perimeter this year, a lone watcher from Horizon Zero Dawn investigated crowds at the entrance.

Most other brands centered their showcase around the experience of the games. Many players were rewarded with specialty swag; Mario players walked off with a Cappy visor, Sonic players got posters, and others reaped the reward of not having to wait in line anymore.

Apple Promotes Success Stories With TV Program ‘Planet Of The Apps’

Planet of the Apps—Apple’s first original TV program—debuted on Tuesday and the first episode can be viewed for free through iTunes or the official website. Hosted by Zane Lowe, app creators pitch their ideas Shark Tank-style to a panel of four entrepreneur judges—Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow, Will.i.am and Gary Vaynerchuk. To promote the show, Apple is focusing on the story behind the story and what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur.

Over the course of the 50-minute show, contestants on Planet of the Apps explain their concepts and vie for the attention and financial backing they need. If chosen, these developers will be mentored on how to strengthen their app for a chance at real funding. So Apple picked judges who understand the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, if not app development itself.

Entrepreneurial Eyes

First and foremost, Apple is marketing its show’s credibility through its casting. They may not be app developers, but they know a thing or two about what makes a good idea, and how to turn that idea into a reality.

Jessica Alba co-founded eco-friendly retailer The Honest Company while Gwyneth Paltrow is a writer, food critic and founder of lifestyle brand Goop (derived from her initials). Will.i.am is a seven-time Grammy-award-winning entertainer, TV producer and founding shareholder of Beats Electronics. Gary Vaynerchuk is a serial entrepreneur, adviser and angel investor. Even the host Zane Lowe is a Grammy-nominated entertainer and TV presenter.

The official Planet of the Apps social media accounts have been posting spotlights for each of the judges and Lowe that highlight what strengths they bring to the table. On Apple Music, viewers can watch a series of featurettes that talk about each of their views on the subject of entrepreneurship.

He’s all about bringing up the next generation of entrepreneurs. See @GaryVee on #PlanetOfTheApps on @AppleMusic

A post shared by Planet of the Apps (@planetoftheapps) on

Feeding An Ecosystem

Planet of the Apps is Apple’s first step into branded content—helping others by helping itself. The ideas that gain the most traction have a shot at winning $10 million in funding and a top spot on the app store. Excited app developers mean more apps, and more apps mean more shared revenue for Apple.

“I was very interested in the idea that the whole thing could happen end-to-end under the Apple umbrella—that it could be sort of contained within their ecosystem, [and] that there was a real privacy element to it and control,” Paltrow told Entertainment Weekly, “from a supply chain kind of all the way from the beginning to the end, and that there weren’t going to be commercials. So, it was really a way to celebrate content, creativity, entrepreneurship, and I felt there was a lot of kinship between the DNA of the show—which was to find someone great and amplify what they’re doing—to the DNA of Goop.”

Currently, Apple takes a 70/30 split with app developers (70 percent to developers), but recently offered to take lower cuts if apps are sold as a service. Apple will now take a smaller cut of money from app developers if customers stick with their subscriptions for longer than a year, Phil Schiller told The Verge in a pre-WWDC 2016 interview.

Apple CEO Tim Cook told investors in January that he hopes to double Apple’s services revenue over the next four years, helped in part by selling and distributing content. He highlighted that the developer community has earned a total of $60 billion, as the company has provided new ways for developers to earn revenue.

Expedia Transports Mobile Users To Destinations In 360-Degree Video

Expedia has partnered with the San Antonio Tourist Board to create a virtual mini-vacation across its websites. “My Day In San Antonio” allows users to choose from a variety of hot spots around the city such as The Alamo, the zoo and even a Tex-Mex dinner. Once a location has been chosen, the user is transported there via a brief 360-degree video. The ads may be viewed in a browser or with a VR headset for further immersion. On mobile, the ads respond to multiple phone sensors including the gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer.

Wendy Olson Killion, global senior director at Expedia Media Solutions joined AListDaily to share insight into the campaign and which travel industry trends marketers need to know.

Expedia 360Expedia Media Solutions is the company’s advertising arm and the team responsible for Hawaii’s facial recognition campaign, “Discover Your Aloha.” We asked Olson Killion why 360-degree video was chosen to showcase San Antonio as opposed to other technologies available.

“[360-degree video] really puts the consumer in the mindset of being in that destination,” she told AListDaily. “It’s in between beautifully-produced video and true virtual reality, but it gives the consumer control. They can control what they want to look at when they want to look at it. In this instance, there are hot spots that they can click on throughout so they can kind of choose their own travel adventure as they are doing this. The output is a kind of personal itinerary that [users can] book if they wanted to. I think the difference is really that immersive control and personalization of that experience.”

While Expedia is no stranger to 360-degree video experiences—having produced ads for Australia and Norway—”My Day In San Antonio” is the first interactive ad of its kind for the company.

“We’ve never used this technology for any other campaigns or any other cities,” Olson Killion said. “We are always looking for ways of pushing the technology just a bit beyond the bounds. ‘Discover Your Aloha’ was the first in class to use that facial recognition software in a browser. Now we use gyroscopes and accelerometers on mobile—we’re always looking for different combinations and different ways of using technologies . . . we are a technology company first and foremost in the awesome world of travel.”

“My Day In San Antonio” launched on May 1 and will run through September. It may be too early to share metrics, but Expedia Media Solutions is ready to take on any challenges that pop up along the way.

“The feedback has been really good,” said Olson Killion, “[but] we always look to and learn and optimize. If we see something in the campaign where the results aren’t as strong as we would expect, we would look at what we’ve learned from the campaign thus far and optimize it based on data and other hypotheses. We always want to make sure we’re getting good results for every partner.”

Travel brands have proven to be eager adopters of new technology and Expedia plans to stay at the forefront of marketing trends, especially as they appeal to young consumers.

“We definitely feel that VR and AR are going to be more accessible and more affordable, allowing marketers to bring [virtual travel] experiences to life, raising awareness for their products and destinations,” explained Olson Killion. “One of the other big trends we see is personalization through data. Data is very, very important to us. Consumers are expecting content experiences that are personalized to their needs and travel brands will need to use data such as sophisticated targeting in combination with new technologies to create personalized offerings, itineraries, etc. that appeal to specific audiences.”

Could virtual reality vacations replace the travel industry? Olson Killion doesn’t think so. “[VR] can help educate, it can inspire but it can’t replace the authentic feel of being in a destination and really doing some of these experiences.

“I love my job, I love what we do, I love the space and being able to marry technology with travel for the betterment of the world—it’s really cool.”

Branded Content Favors Stories Over Traditional Ads

While product placement is still very much a thing, a rising trend in the marketing arena is for companies to produce their own branded entertainment. These companies are trading in static ads and traditional commercials and instead telling compelling stories in line with their brand’s message.

Nutella, for one, is timing a weekly web series with the holiday season in Spread the Happy. This feel-good show tells the stories of individuals who make the world a better place by spreading kindness to others. The first episode is about Brooklyn, a three-year-old girl who strikes up a sweet friendship with their garbage man. Aside from a fade-in title at the beginning and an image of Nutella spread at the end, these stories don’t feature the product at all. “You’ll notice that these are not ads—it’s a webseries brought to consumers by Nutella so we’re not trying to brand it,” Eric Berger, marketing director for Nutella USA told Adweek. “We’re just generally trying to spread happiness and inspire others to do the same.”

Cap’n Crunch teamed up with Funny or Die last week to create a comedy series called The Earliest Show. Ironically airing in the middle of the night, the campaign tells the story of a talk show host who goes through a very public break-up. Aimed at millennial males, The Earliest Show stars Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation, House of Lies) and Lauren Lapkus (Orange Is the New Black). Aside from purposely wacky infomercials for Cap’n Crunch and a cooking tutorial, parent company Quaker wanted to focus on the story and original concept by Schwartz.

Starbucks began a similar campaign in September with Upstanders, an original series that aims to inspire positive change amidst cynicism in the United States. The series features ten stories told in written, video and podcast formats about “ordinary people doing extraordinary things to create positive change in their communities.”

Going a different direction, Chipotle’s Love Story animated campaign focuses on two entrepreneurs whose judgment is clouded by competition and processed food ingredients. The message is that the company cares more about what goes into their food than how they sell it. Love Story is the third in a string of short films by the restaurant chain that share a theme of quality food products.

Geico took a similar approach with its web series about its sponsored eSports players, Team SoloMid (TSM). TSM’s New Neighbor is shot in mockumentary-style and explores how a professional eSports team living in a house to practice deal with an overly enthusiastic neighbor. Aside from a deliver of Geico “swag” at the beginning of the first episode, that’s the last you’ll hear about insurance. Geico saved plugs for separate, mini ad spots in which different team members would discuss an insurance offering while their neighbor interrupts in the background.

Branded entertainment puts control back into the hands of marketers and if successful, elicits an emotional response from the viewer. A recent study by Television News Daily shows that original branded content outperforms traditional pre-roll ads. These stories also generate an average of 86 percent brand recall among consumers—a much higher number than the 65 percent with pre-roll advertising.