The 48-minute video detailing how an Oregon woman named Jenella Spears lost $400,000 in an e-mail scam doesn’t look much like a commercial.
In fact, with its talking-head interviews and narrative of a former hacker, Chris Roberts, helping Spears recoup her loss, it feels more like an episode of 20/20 or Nightline.
But don’t be fooled, Stop H*Commerce: The Business of Hacking You, as the video is known, is a slickly made commercial for security software maker McAfee. It was created by Tribal DDB in San Francisco, and though it wasn’t designed for TV, it will be heading there this week as NBC affiliates in New York, San Francisco, Washington and Dallas pick it up. In addition, Hulu has put the video on its documentary channel.
That wasn’t the original plan. When McAfee launched the program (which the company is loath to call an “infomercial”) back in May, the idea was to draw attention to so-called Hacker Commerce, described as the dark side of e-commerce. The company at the time launched billboards and online ads promoting the suite of seven-minute videos as an attempt to own the H*Commerce space. McAfee also wanted to break out of what Geoff Gougion, managing director at Tribal DDB, calls a “sea of sameness” in the category’s messaging. That and an optimism bias—consumers tended to think that this wouldn’t happen to them—prompted McAfee to embrace the documentary format.
“We needed to make the problem and the threat more real,” Gougion said. “We thought we could do that through the form of a documentary.”
The company enlisted Seth Gordon, director of the documentary King of Kong (about two rivals in the videogame Donkey Kong), to create the doc.
Since May, the video has received close to 500,000 hits, according to Bob Kennedy, McAfee’s director of global advertising. Kennedy said the program has been successful because it toes the line between an ad pitch and providing information. “How much of this is commercial, and how much is informational? It’s hard to tell,” he said.
Indeed, the connection to the advertiser is fairly subtle. No rep for McAfee appears in the doc, and there’s only a short mention of the brand at the end of each short. “Everyone, the client included, wanted to make the concept about H*Commerce,” said Lisa Bennett, chief creative officer of DDB West. “McAfee surely didn’t want to make it one big ad.” So far, the agency and the client are satisfied that the program has raised awareness for the issue and for McAfee, which is outspent by larger competitors Norton and Symantec.
As for the “reverse migration” from online to TV, Mike Arauz, a strategist at Undercurrent, a social media marketing firm, said that model may become more the norm. “It’s the best way to try something out to see if it works,” he said. “If you stumble upon something that has legs, you can put more money behind it.”
For his part, Kennedy sees this form of advertising as one that runs well in tandem with traditional ads. “Whenever we’d run print or outdoor, we’d see an uptick in traffic,” he said.