Tell me if you've heard this one before . . . Christian Slater plays a wry, sinister hacker type, who seems to be invisible to the larger world around him. Ah, so you've seen Mr. Robot? This time around, though, Slater returns to this familiar role (in fancier clothes) to warn businesses and corporations of the potentially devastating security threat posed by their . . . printers.
The Wolf is a four-part web series, created with agencies Giant Spoon and Gyro, starring Slater as a seemingly invisible hacker, who infiltrates a fictional finance company (not to mention the personal data of employees) in an unexpected way. Directed by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Lance Acord and edited by Oscar-winning editor Kirk Baxter, the series is the company's first work under its new content division, HP Studios. There are hundreds of millions of business printers in the world, but according to HP research, less than 2% are secure, while 43% of companies ignore printers in their endpoint security practices, and only 18% monitor printers for threats. Award-winning film talent. Corporate printer security. Two things you'd never associate with one another, but for HP's chief marketing officer Antonio Lucio, combining the two is a strategic move to fundamentally shift the brand's entire identity.
"Strategically speaking, we're elevating security to the level of brand platform," says Lucio. "Today our customers associate HP with innovation, reliability, and value. In a year from now, we want them to have added security to that list. So we're focused on delivering that message."
Okay, so that still doesn't exactly explain why one would get Christian Slater to play a—familiar!—hacker in a web series. Vikrant Batra, HP’s global head of marketing for imaging and printing, says it boils down to explanation and entertainment.
"We had a lot of explaining to do around what the (security) risks are, and when you have that much explaining to do, and frankly, when you're talking about printer security, you better have the engagement level very high up there," says Batra. "We also felt very inspired by shows like Mr. Robot, which are based in similar areas around security and privacy, and they're very engaging. So we thought, what better way to engage the IT community than with the kind of content they love to watch?"
This isn't the last we'll see of Slater for HP. Lucio says this series is just phase one of a multiyear effort, with plans for The Wolf character to evolve in more stories, across different platforms.
The idea behind HP Studios is to have a banner under which to not only identify the brand's content, but set audience expectations that what they're about to see will be much more than an ad.
"We understand that we are competing against everything and everybody when it comes to content," says Lucio. "By labeling ourselves as a studio, it creates a higher bar when it comes to the emotional connection, the production values, and consumer engagement. We fundamentally believe that engaging, long-form content where you need to explain a story with both the rational as well as the emotional connection is great for us. That's what's behind this."
It's not the first time corporate network security brand has made a B2B marketing campaign surprisingly entertaining. Last year Netscout and its agency Pereira O'Dell initially enlisted award-winning director Werner Herzog to create a web series, and that became the feature documentary Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, which was a Sundance hit and currently enjoys a 93% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Not bad for brand content.
"At the end of the day, if you're going to be out there doing film content, you better do content that's A-level," says Batra. "To drive that engagement, you have to do that."
The thinking behind HP's new series is that, if you're going to make content you want people to actually watch, you better get the creative talent to back those ambitions up. Hence getting Slater, Acord, and Baxter on board.
"In an era where people are saturated with content, breakthrough is everything," says Lucio. "You have to transcend or you die. And with an issue as important as security, we're banking on the entertainment value, the emotional connection of these films to carry our message through."
This new series also reflects a change in how the company sees the audience for brand work like this, which could've been confined to CISOs—chief information security officers—and general IT decision-makers. But instead Lucio and Batra said they've stopped seeing their B2B target as a siloed group.
"Our research says that more than 55% of IT decision-makers are now millennials, and a lot of these guys are gamers, they watch TV, they have one life and don't become something different when they go to work," says Batra. "They're not going to download a 50-page white paper—they want the kind of content that they actually want to watch. You have to treat these business consumers as one person. So give them content they'll love."
It also doesn't hurt when you make content good enough to go beyond even your target and give the overall brand a creative halo.
"We do not believe there is a B2C or B2B, but just B-to-People," says Lucio. "And we're approaching a traditional IT decision-maker consumer as a human being who is interested in things that entertain and inform them."