As season one of Tim Kring’s Fox series Touch comes to a close on TV, elements of the show will live on in a new brand entertainment property created by Kring and agency BBDO for AT&T.
Daybreak is a layered digital campaign for AT&T’s new phase of the "Rethink Possible" platform that highlights its 4G network and product innovations. An online, five-part mini-drama spreads engagement across two dedicated sites and an iPhone and Android app. The story centers around the dodecahedron, a mysterious 12-sided object that was introduced in the series, Touch and serves as the link between that show and its interactive extension Daybreak in which Ben Wilkins (played by 90210's Ryan Eggold) becomes its protector and fights a global conspiracy that threatens humanity’s future.
The Dawn of Daybreak
BBDO approached Kring about creating a long-form project; subsequently he would visit the AT&T Labs where he found inspiration for elements that would end up in Touch and what later became Daybreak.
"When you have a long-form presentation that you’re asking people to go see voluntarily, it has to be that much more of a magnet that draws them in," says David Lubars, chairman and chief creative officer at BBDO. "We realized it’d be great to find a new way to match Hollywood and marketing where [Kring’s] piece of entertainment with AT&T as the sponsor and our piece with AT&T as the star performer shared assets and storylines with Touch where it becomes a whole new way of bringing entertainment to people and also brands."
But before giving Daybreak the green light, Esther Lee, senior vice president for Brand Marketing and Advertising at AT&T, had to acknowledge the issues with creating this kind of content project.
"I had two challenges with it: Number one was how do you drive traffic? Part of the issue was you just can’t build it and they will come—people in the industry will see it, but I wasn’t sure how many customers would. The second challenge is how do we build the business?" she notes. "We said we’re not going to move forward on this project unless the story and the creative elements are the best in class and model-breaking."
And the best in class for gripping transmedia TV storytelling making use of the pervasiveness of technology certainly goes to Kring.
Layering the Drama
While watching Daybreak, it quickly becomes apparent that the brand and products involved fit organically within the entertainment. Because AT&T’s products are rooted in the here-and-now of technology, Kring approached the endeavor no different than any other project. "I have a real passion for multi-platform storytelling that allows the audience to interact with the narrative, so utilizing the brand was a natural process from the beginning," he says. "The technologies and applications we’ve incorporated into the narrative actually helped tell a story that’s more dynamic."
Daybreak is smartly structured in a way that allows viewers to consume the content at their preferred level of engagement. Watching each 10-minute installment in a linear fashion will still have all the cliffhanging suspense of a TV drama, but there are options to dive deeper into the Daybreak universe with hyperlinked episodes driving traffic to the products featured in a scene—including the Air Graffiti app, HTC One X, and Samsung Galaxy Tab—as well as the Jack Boxers app that broadens the story to an additional platform by granting access to an underground group helping the hero on his journey.
No matter how far consumers are willing to go with their Daybreak experience, the campaign’s success hinges on the brand supporting the content and not the other way around.
"I think audiences are fairly savvy—when [product placement] is pulled out of the narrative, that’s when it gets kind of egregious," says Kring. "But I also think they know somebody has to pay for the content. The idea is that you give them a really compelling story and don’t make it feel like you’re blatantly advertising a product to them."
Return on Content
Since Daybreak is a relatively new approach, Lee says measuring overall success will mean watching standard metrics—page view counts, app downloads, referred products sold— while also recognizing that providing a richer experience engenders and/or deepens brand loyalty. And for Lubars, attaining that loyalty is directly related to finding creative solutions that cater first to consumers’ sensibilities, while still giving brands an entryway to new opportunities.
"People are willing to play the game if you do certain things: it has to be transparent and it has to be worthwhile," he says.
Taking into account their experience working within creative parameters, Lubars predicts ad agencies will be at the forefront of even more ambitious film and TV marketing productions as the content marketing space evolves. That being said, Kring’s involvement should serve as the precedent for campaigns created in Daybreak's wake.
"I was never interested in making a long commercial," he says. "I wanted to do a cool narrative utilizing the technology AT&T had to tell a story in a unique way, and I think people will appreciate the newness of that."