When was the last time you saw a shoe commercial mention Bukkake?  Me neither. One brand has grown a huge pair in its attempt to reach their audience. The latest installment of bold branded entertainment comes from the new Kswiss Tubes campaign, featuring America’s favorite, fictitious has-been baseball player Kenny Powers from the returning HBO series ,“East Bound and Down”.

Shocking the Interwebs audience certainly isn’t anything new to advertising (remember Diesel’s SFW birthday video in ’08?), but some brands are really jumping in with both feet and two of something else and demonstrating how important it is to really know who your audience is and what they want.  KSwiss EVP David Nichols calls this new, razor sharp Tubes campaign: “unfiltered straight talk”.  While it definitely ain’t for the “straight talk express” crowd, this video series nails it as far as bothering to understand their audience and seamlessly integrating their brand and grown up laughs.  This is one of the few times I actually enjoyed watching a branded video without  being put off by the overt presence of the brand.  I watched the piece, laughed my nads off, and found myself with an otherworldy, passionate desire to buy some mutha @#*&ing TUBES!  Kswiss isn’t alone in the cajones department.

Axe Body Spray and, more recently, the Old Spice / Twitter campaign are great entertainment.  We know it’s advertising and we’re reminded at every beat who the advertiser is and what they’re about.  The brands own it and we know it.  Because, they own it, they are being honest, I’m not offended, and I’m entertained because they know I’m not a white bread guy who wants more of the same.  I love me my Kenny MF’ing Powers and I’ll take the HONEST fun before the subtle BS any day.  I’m betting I am not alone.

The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

If you look under the hood of all successful branded content, you will see an engine built of a  creative team, onscreen talent, and a brand that understands the medium and what appeals to its target audience. The success of the Old Spice / Twitter experience, was due in large part to the talent on camera and the team that was able to execute the writing and production of the personal reactions.  They knew their audience.  Bothered to deliver something new.  And reaped the rewards.

It seems like a fairly intuitive process, however we need only look to the recent Cisco Doug Webster, aka “Old Spice Copycat”, campaign to see what happens when big brands go bad and don’t do their homework…or simply try to piggyback unsuccessfully on a rock star campaign.  If we don’t know your story or characters and you don’t provide us with solid entry points into your new story, why should we care or spend our precious time watching and interacting?

Regardless of how much the audience gets involved (and UGC remains an important element of the campaign) brands must first start with high quality creative that sets the bar and the tone for this engagement.  Together, traditional and new media elements are very successful, but brand moderation and solid producing will always be a mainstay.  Once a brand sets the bar as far as the message and story, the audience can be invited into the process and all sides will be fulfilled.  Although some criticize the effort, the iPad and Modern Family combination was, by most accounts, very successful.  The integration was (1) organic to the story and character in the episode and (2) catered to the audience on every level.  This author would have been in favor of Sofia Vergara alone with her iPad in a series of web shorts, but that’s another article altogether.

Proof Is in the Sales

At this point in the game, if you’re a brand and don’t jump in with both feet when creating this type of content, you can’t expect people to stay interested, let alone give your brand any respect or a vote with their dollars.  While it’s certainly too early to gauge the sales success of the latest installment of bold brands looking to cash in on what Mashable calls “the future of Marketing”, Nielsen provided solid numbers on the  Old Spice / Twitter campaign. Total brand views on the web for the old Old Spice videos have surpassed 100 million and sales have made a 100% gain since February of 2010 according to Nielsen.

Axe, Old Spice, and KSwiss all had a clear and complete understanding of their audience.  They determined / decided that the audience that watches HBO, just might be their sweetspot.   They were able to successfully navigate the sometimes tricky real-time content space with edgy video and multi-platform elements (look for KSwiss Kenny on your Facebook page real soon).  Here’s what having balls does for us and for your brand—We don’t mind your advertising, as long as it makes sense and gives us something of value.  While its not everyone’s taste, Kenny makes me laugh….and want to buy sneakers.

We know that Kenny Powers is not for everyone (but we have no idea why).  Fear not fans of G-rated branded content!  It’s not all balls and tubes – unless you count those Swedish meatballs.  Ikea and Iliana Douglas (along with a host of other familiar faces) have been teaming up for the last couple of years to bring you Easy To Assemble.  The series has been seen over 5 million times since it launched and has managed to weave a story and breathe life into those ambiguous, Scandinavian instructions we love.

So attention brands of planet earth!  Now is the time for brands – conservative and edgy alike – to take risks in this new space.  Please make sure to hire capable, creative minds who understand your core audience.  Sorry, only the pros know how to craft content that can be edgy, and yet stay on point with relevance and message. Simply making something shocking, for the sake of standing out in the crowded digital space just doesn’t work.  If you don’t believe us, just ask Burger King.