home June 23, 2020

Branded Content Strategy, Creative Direction & Production

The year after my creative partner Joe Finkleman and I filmed Carlos Sastre win the Tour de France on a Cervélo bike in 2008, Sastre joined the fledgling Cervélo TestTeam. So Joe and I quickly penned and pitched a concept for a behind-the-scenes branded content series about the team called BEYOND THE PELOTON (BTP as it came to be affectionately called by fans). Inspired by ground-breaking Nike street ball series my former New York creative partner Malcolm Hearn edited for Radical.Media, it was part of a bigger transmedia branded content play that included Cervélo’s documentary-style Tour de France commercials, product videos, videos for team co-sponsors like Rotor, social media content, and even exclusive videos for Cervélo’s Tour de France VIP fan access packages.

Cervélo co-founder Gerard Vroomen, who believed behind-the-scenes R&D about the fastest bikes in the world was more compelling than ad agency hype and embraced transparency in a sport plagued by deceit, jumped at the chance to show his company and team make history.

As he puts it: “Booker (together with Joe Finkleman) pitched us the idea for a documentary series about our newly-founded Cervélo TestTeam. As we wanted to create the most transparent cycling team possible (something lacking in this sport in general) and were looking for original ways to tell our story, it was the perfect idea.”

And so began three wild years on the road with the Cervélo TestTeam (which merged into Team Garmin Cervélo in 2011), as BTP quickly built a cult following in 2009 with underdog stories like Thor Hushovd’s surprising Green Jersey win at the Tour de France and Heinrich Haussler’s Milan San Remo loss to Mark Cavendish by mere centimeters. BTP and its associated transmedia content helped Cervélo enjoy tremendous growth in a few short years and become the most coveted pro-cycling bike brand – all while keeping Cervélo’s cutting-edge product development and inspiring startup story front and center. 

“In all modesty,” Vroomen continues, “Booker and the rest of the crew of BEYOND THE PELOTON made a small piece of history. The documentary series was the first of its kind, showed the raw beauty of the sport (and its ugliness), was honest and unpolished and most importantly, fans and riders loved it. Nowadays, many teams have documentary series, but the brilliance of the original has never been matched. The main reason is that Booker and Joe always maintained creative independence, resulting in truly interesting stories rather than slick (and often-boring) marketing mush. Of course they understood the needs of the team too, but the integrity of the story was paramount for them and frankly, also for us.”

Around that same time, I wrote, co-produced, directed and edited a Cadbury-sponsored doc about bike activism in Ghana called WHEELS OF CHANGE, which aired in Canada on CTV – and followed up by directing more branded content showing how Cadbury’s Fairtrade initiative improved the lives of Ghanaian cocoa farmers. 

Fans were in an uproar when BTP was canceled after Cervélo was acquired by conglomerate Pon, and a new management team was brought in. The end of an era, but its legacy, and fandom, live on – with one fan at Tesla even proposing a similar series following Elon during the company’s rise in the early 2010s. Unfortunately (or fortunately, given Elon’s antics today), Legitmix, the music-tech startup I co-founded just locked in 7-figure funding from the Purple Angels and Canada’s MaRS startup accelerator. 

In addition to Legitmix videos featuring Diplo and other taste-making DJs, I created storytelling strategy and production for a variety of other innovators  – including interactive experiences for Gallipoli-based ceramics company Kale, New York’s Success Academy charter school, Snoop Dogg’s Merry Jane cannabis content brand, all while at leading digital studio Jam3. And during my four years at Jam3, I wrote and directed case study videos for their award-winning projects, included the 2x Cannes Lions winner CHANGE GOUT, which I also wrote and produced, and the 2x Webby winner SONS OF GALLIPOLI, which I co-wrote, produced and directed.

For Makers.to, I served as dual-role producer and creative on branded content for Detroit-based cannabis startup Common Citizen, Bombardier’s Can-Am BRP brand, Corona’s Sunset concert series, leading Canadian startup incubator MaRS (which co-founded Legitmix), and for Jam3 and Superf.ly, multiple global campaigns featuring Microsoft user stories, one released in 2023 that was shot in 4 countries, including Ghana, where I worked with old friends from the Cadbury days, and met new friends from the Afrobeats music video scene (with whom I hope to work with on an Afrobeats project I’m developing).

Throughout this branded content journey I’ve learned a lot about non-fiction transmedia strategy, which I unwittingly pioneered for Cervélo, and now teach at Seneca College. I’m of course aware of the fine line between documentary-style branded propaganda and authentic, educational and entertaining content that brings value to all stakeholders of a brand, cause, culture or institution – which I’ve outlined in a presentation I put together for Jam3 called The Dos and Don’ts of Branded Content (available on request).

 

  • Strategy

    Brand Strategy, UX Strategy

  • Design

    UI/UX Design, Art Direction

  • Client

    Envato

Selected Work
Back

This website stores cookies on your computer. Cookies Policy