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Scorcese, hbo and brands- cultural propulsion

August 16, 2010

According to yesterday’s NYT, HBO are going all out to promote their new Martin Scorsese series “Boardwalk Empire.”. The unusual thing about the effort is how they’ve enlisted the help of three brands; Harrah’s, Macy’s and Canadian Club.

Since the show is set in the era prohibition era, it might seem surprising to see Canadian Club playing such a prominent role, but apparently the brand was firmly associated with the period; Al Capone was rumored to have smuggled the brand from Windsor Canada, to Detroit.

Obviously a Scorsese show for HBO is going to get attention and it’s probably going deal with some edgy content and themes- something you wouldn’t have thought these three brands would have wanted to be part of. However, they’ve probably seen the success of the Mad Men as another period piece and seen the opportunity to gain cultural propulsion by taking some risks.

This is a nice deal for both parties because HBO get’s an inside track on a lot of interesting free media- like store windows in Bloomingdales, hotel rooms in Atlantic City and a partnership in speakeasy parties organized by Canadian Club.

The challenge for these brands is to make sure they can “own” something out of this deal and really play a role. If they are just seen as mere “sponsors”, they won’t have capitalized on the opportunity correctly. Clearly this is not their creative idea and content and there’s a danger these brands could get lost in the shuffle.

There’s something of a gamble going on here on a couple of levels

1. A Scorsese TV series will be a hit
2. The 1920s will make a cultural comeback

The first point is likely given the man’s track record Less likely are the 20s making a cultural comeback; while there can be some parallels drawn with the recession, it’s past history that’s difficult to connect with, unlike Mad Men, where you can clearly see the line between that past and today.

The best these brands can hope for is that the relevance in the glamor, sophistication and drama of the period can be tapped and turned into something.

For Canadian Club, a brand that’s not afraid to take risks, it will be interesting to see how far they push this association.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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