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-- By Brian Morrissey
NEW YORK -- In a sign of Hulu's growing clout for building brands, Pepsi has crafted retro-themed spots to run with Hulu's selection of shows from the 1970s and '80s. Hulu is a free online video service offering both current and past TV shows.
The 15-second ads promote "Pepsi Throwback," a beverage launched in April to tap into the nostalgia market. It features packaging reminiscent of '70s designs—and uses real sugar like the soft-drink recipe did 40 years ago.
Pepsi is running the commercials with vintage fare on Hulu like Hill Street Blues, Battlestar Galactica and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In all, Pepsi plans to run 11 spots with more than 200 programs through June 15.
The beverage giant hopes the ads will connect with a youth audience that is discovering programs from the '70s and '80s thanks to Hulu. While many of the service's most popular shows are current TV hits, some older entries—like Doogie Howser, M.D., Alf and Married...With Children—have found a second life on the site.
"We know Millennials are craving this content," said Ana Maria Irazabal, Pepsi's U.S. brand marketing director. "What happened in the past is not old, it's considered new because they haven't seen it before."
In one spot called "Pet Rock," a Pepsi Throwback can chats with the U.S. Bicentennial-era collector's item about how the two "go way back." The clip closes with a shot of the Pepsi Throwback can on a shag carpet and the message "Made with real sugar" in psychedelic font. Other iterations feature the can bantering with other touchstones from the era, such as a fondue pot, an eight-track player and a Polaroid camera.
The program sprung from a collaboration between several Pepsi agencies, including brand shop TBWAChiatDay, media agency OMD and digital strategy firm Undercurrent.
Pepsi also worked with IAC-owned youth entertainment site CollegeHumor.com to create three of the commercials. CollegeHumor's spots feature two guys spoofing the '80s. In one, they are shown playing videogames when a phone call arrives from someone who uses vintage catchphrases like "Eat my shorts."
The challenge was creating compelling ads on a shoestring budget, said Irazabel. "If we don't have cost efficiencies, we wouldn't be able to produce 12 spots," she said. "They need to be nimble."
Hulu, which publicly launched 14 months ago, has quickly registered impressive growth. Estimates of its audience vary widely. According to ComScore, it attracted 42 million visitors in March. Nielsen, parent of Adweek, estimates its audience that month at 8.9 million. Both services believe Hulu's audience and views are up sharply.
Its advertising efforts have not kept pace, despite keen interest from brands in attaching themselves to high-quality, professional content. Hulu visitors frequently see public service ads, and nearly all the site's commercials consist of repurposed TV spots. Hulu CEO Jason Kilar has complained that not enough advertisers are crafting spots geared to the environment.
"Our goal is to target highly relevant environments and experiences for users and for advertisers' brands which ultimately allows us to increase the effectiveness of our advertising platform," Hulu senior vice president of advertising J.P. Colaco said in a statement. "The Pepsi example is one that allows us to uniquely bring together more than 200 relevant archived shows with retro-themed advertising to create a more immersive and engaging experience."