The Red Bull Signature Series Dreamline BMX contest recently wrapped up its third year of giving riders the chance to, as the 2013 event coverage put it, “attack the most innovative BMX dirt setup that we have every seen. A course that many people are saying could alter the sport.” And that’s not just Red Bull’s opinion. TransWorld RideBMX calls Dreamline “the premier dirt contest of the year”—which is exactly what Luke Seile and Paul Williams, co-founders of the branded content firm Become Co., had in mind when they created it.
For Red Bull, breaking new ground in content is old hat. So when launching projects for the brand, how can content creators continue to find new territory for innovation?
According to Seile and Williams, it’s about relationships, setting the right goals, and watching for the right opportunities. That philosophy has led them to work with clients such as Teva and GoPro to create action sports content that is unique, fresh, and some of the best branded content on earth.
“At the end of the day, when you have real life in there, it creates its own drama,” explains Seile, who cut his content teeth at Red Bull before launching Become Co. in 2010, says. “You set the checkers on the board, but you have to be comfortable letting it play out. Consumers are really savvy, and they when know they’ve been played. They know if you’ve faked anything.”
Building great content with great relationships
The genesis story of many Become Co. projects centers on a conversation between the firm and an athlete. In the case of Dreamline, the race concept began with a chat with professional BMX rider Anthony Napolitan.
A similar conversation with professional mountain biker Paul Basagoitia turned into a project for Teva that chronicles Basagoitia’s unprecedented natural-terrain double backflip on a mountain bike. That project, like the aforementioned Dreamline, is a perfect example of Become Co.’s commitment to defying the standard athlete-meets-brand formula.
Whereas many brands see athletes as little more than passive money-making entities, Become Co. and the brands it’s worked with give athletes the opportunity to meet their own goals.
“A common theme among all BMX dirt bike riders is that contests were getting really scarce and didn’t showcase what the core of that sport truly was,” says Seile. “What we tried to do is look at that as an opportunity.”
Instead of hosting another run-of-the-mill contest with straight jumps, they took Dreamline through winding tree-lined trails, allowing the athletes to show off a level of skill they rarely had the chance to do otherwise. With Basagoitia, they helped him fulfill his lifelong dream of landing a double backflip.
Bold decisions like that are what get fans of the sport really excited—an excitement that extends to social media. Dreamline, Williams says, “takes over the entire BMX industry for a month, and you still see it being shared for months after.”
Metrics? What metrics?
Try to get Seile and Williams to talk about the success of their projects in terms of metrics is kind of like fighting a steep uphill BMX course, so to speak. Numbers rank notably low on their list of project goals.
“Being credible is the top of our list,” Seile says. “There are a lot of ways for us to promise X amount of views, but to us it just doesn’t make sense. There are little tricks you can use to get an extra ten to fifteen thousand views. Are those credible views? Probably not.”
Instead of luring online oglers with excessive wrecks or people getting hurt, Become Co. focuses on great storytelling, with the philosophy that such content will remain high-quality—and will continue to be shared—indefinitely. Those are the credible views, resulting from sincere interest in the story, that Seile and Williams believe benefit the brand, and therefore truly count. Which are pretty tough to measure as of yet.
“With branded content being pretty new, it’s still not necessarily about the numbers,” says Williams. “It’s about creating a content that lasts for a lifetime.”
While Seile and Williams acquiesce that each brand has their own definition of success based on metrics, they measure success in a way that changes with each project. In the closing sequence of the dramatic Teva video, Basagoitia says, “It wasn’t easy. I knocked myself out a couple of times, broke a couple bikes, but finally accomplished what I’ve been trying to do for years.”
That’s it: That’s what Become Co. was going for. Not the overt promotion of Teva’s new mountain bike shoes, but creating an authentic “in” to mountain biking culture by funding an athlete to attempt a never-before-completed trick on new terrain.
In the case of Dreamline, their even loftier goal of disrupting the BMX contest space was no less metric-free. They didn’t focus on the number of people attending the event; creating a great event organically attracted enough attention in itself—now even NBC Sports shows up to broadcast the event.
The joy of serving content-focused clients
Seile and Williams understand how privileged they are to work with inventive brands that don’t put the highest priority on sales metrics. With Red Bull, for example, “it’s the easiest partnership,” Seile says. “They’ve figured it out over the last ten years.”
The good news for others—and Become Co.’s growing client list—is that Red Bull is no longer an anomaly in the industry.
“We work with incredible companies, so we’ve never had anyone say they’ve wanted the easy way out and to get quick impressions,” Seile says. “They know who they are. They just need to know how to put it out into the world.”
That saves Seile and Williams from doing branded content education for their clients instead of concentrating on the projects themselves. They credit much of this shift to an increasingly enlightened field of marketers, influenced in no small part by Red Bull’s long-established content success.
They see this in the projects of others as well, such as the Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways project with HBO, which documented the band’s eight-city recording tour that resulted in a collaborative album frontman Dave Grohl calls “a love letter to the history of American music.”
“I don’t even like their music, but you’re hearing stories from these amazing musicians, and I’m more compelled now to buy their album,” Seile says.
The Become Co. team expects this trend—of more brands following the path blazed by Red Bull toward brand-boosting, non-salesy, pure-entertainment content that is less hindered by metric expectations and more focused on great storytelling—to continue. Content-focused firms everywhere are most certainly hoping Become Co. is correct.