Jordan Kelley, Content Director, Brandstorytelling.tv
In July, Netflix debuted a new show featuring host Zac Efron traversing the globe in search of ways to be more mindful about his own health and the health of the planet. Down to Earth with Zac Efron quickly rose in the ranks of the Netflix top 10, hitting the number one mark twice in two weeks. Efron's casual personality combined with learning to improve quality of life and the planet, set against the backdrop of stunning global locations, captured the attention of home-bound viewers whose Summer plans had been dashed by the pandemic. And while the typical viewer may have been fixated on beautiful locations like Puerto Rico, Peru, and Iceland, any brand storyteller tuning in is sure to have been taken with an entirely different aspect of the show: the seamless integration of Hilton Hotels. Brand Storytelling caught up with Carole Munroe, Senior Director, Global Consumer Communications at Hilton Worldwide, to gain some insight into what makes for such a seamless partnership and how aligning with content that amplifies a brand's purpose pays off:
What initially inspired this partnership?
When New World Distribution and Brian Volk-Weiss’ Nacelle production company reached out to Hilton about being the official hotel sponsor for Down To Earth With Zac Efron, the request landed with the Global Consumer Communications team, the perfect spot to evaluate such an opportunity – from a production, content, and PR and Marketing partnership perspective. Most important to us was the opportunity to be an organic part of the series storyline, not just a sponsor in name only. We did our research. Brian has a strong track record with Netflix and A-list talent. We saw the potential in associating Hilton’s global brand with the global footprints of Netflix and Discovery on a travel topic with strong multi-generational appeal. When the series storyline was solidified, it became an even better fit with sustainability as a core premise. As the hotel leader in sustainable travel, driven by our corporate responsibility commitment, Travel With Purpose, we believed our participation would present a uniquely Hilton experience. For us that’s a key criterium for evaluating content.
What was the process like of integrating different Hilton locations and experiences into the program?
First, we had to decide which of Hilton’s brands made the most sense for this opportunity. We decided on the flagship Hilton Hotels & Resorts brand because it is iconic, easily translatable around the world and is representative of the Hilton enterprise of 18 brands and growing, with fantastic resort experiences in highly sought-after locations. Hilton Hotels & Resorts was also a great strategic fit for marketing to young business travelers who prioritize business and leisure travel. Once that decision was made, we knew it would be pretty easy to deliver great experiences and visually interesting stories and content wherever the producers chose to go. As the show concept was further defined and shoot schedules/locations were finalized, we worked in partnership with the production team to integrate experiences that felt like a natural extension to the series itself. At Hilton, we have a 100-year track record as a global innovator, and our strong sustainability commitment is evident around the world.
How do Hilton’s values align with the values being put forth in the show?
The series aligns quite well with Hilton’s own sustainability priorities outlined in our Travel With Purpose initiative, which guides Hilton to cut our environmental impact in half and double our social impact investments by 2030. Through Travel With Purpose, Hilton is fully committed to redefining sustainable travel and tourism and exploring new ways to reduce environmental impact and strengthen communities. We are thrilled that Down To Earth With Zac Efron is inspiring millions of viewers and fans to do the same. The series explores important topics and initiatives around climate change, sustainability and healthful living in ways that promote curiosity and conversation and it makes ideas accessible to many more people. The series highlights several uniquely Hilton moments such as bamboo bicycles built by Team Members at the Hilton London Bankside, the leadership role the iconic Caribe Hilton played in the re-birth of Puerto Rico after hurricane devastation, and the unique way Hilton extends its hospitality to honeybees on the rooftop of New York Hilton Midtown to improve ecologic health. Through our hotel sponsorship, we are also able to use the series to ignite interest in even more Hilton travel content that we might share through our owned and earned channels.
The world has been through an incalculable change in the moments between show concept and show delivery… Can you speak to that? How did the rise of the global pandemic affect the show’s post-production and release?
It’s been a two-year process from initial talks in 2018 to the phenomenal July 2020 debut on Netflix. Fortunately, we got through all on-location shoots in multiple countries as well as post-production prior to the pandemic. It all came down to waiting for Netflix to determine when they wanted to premiere the series. We knew 2019 was also a pivotal time for the streaming industry with several new competitors entering the market. This series felt different from a lot of fare, and we could not be more pleased with how well it broke through. Likely because of the pandemic, more people have been streaming Netflix than ever before while also placing more top-of-mind focus on health, climate change and sustainability. This confluence of timing and topics, combined with Zac’s popularity and truly engaging storytelling around travel wanderlust, led to Down To Earth With Zac Efron debuting and sustaining in the top five on Netflix and achieving the #1 ranking twice within its first two weeks, which helped place it among the top 25 Netflix shows of 2020, reportedly reaching more than 60 million viewers in July. During a time when ad spending has slowed, this is a great way to target audiences with a message that inspires the desire to travel and to let them know Hilton is a brand they can trust to encourage sustainable travel.
I imagine there must have been some question as to how the show would perform in the current climate - what results are you getting from Netflix?
In addition to stats which Netflix has published, which suggest global pickup in the tens of millions, we’re also seeing positive media coverage, which not only confirms the series’ popularity, but affirms the positive benefits of travel and sustainability. Down To Earth With Zac Efron brings authentic Hilton travel experiences to life for millions of people around the globe – showing the dedication of our Team Members, the diversity of locations we offer across 6200+ properties and 118 countries and territories, our commitment to sustainability, and the continued desire among people all over the world to make travel part of their lives.
You can watch Down To Earth With Zac Efron now on Netflix.
About Carole Munroe
Carole Munroe (Senior Director, Global Brand Communications, Hilton Worldwide) is an engaging and collaborative PR and communications executive and marketing strategist with deep content experience leveraging big-picture expertise, creativity and technology. Munroe is known for building high-performing teams, executing high-visibility global and local events, leading crisis management strategy and response, and serving as a valued adviser to senior executives. As a former journalist, she is a tenacious champion for consumer-focused content -- connecting audiences with relevance, emotion and timeliness to drive trust and business.