Putting Story First: Q&A with Kaaren Whitney-Vernon & Shaftesbury Team

Jordan Kelley, Content Director, Brandstorytelling.tv

Shaftesbury, the Canadian award-winning producer of original content, is no stranger to success when it comes to creating branded entertainment that taps into the pulse of its audience. Their series Carmilla garnered massive results (80M views) and stoked a huge fanbase, leading to 3 seasons and a major motion picture. This time, Shaftesbury has partnered with Dove on a new series “The D Cut” which follows characters fighting to keep an iconic queer salon open in a gentrifying neighborhood. Brand Storytelling sat down with Kaaren Whitney-Vernon and the team at Shaftesbury to discuss their latest series with the Unilever brand and their recipe for success.


When and why were you approached by Dove for this project? What did the RFP look like?

Unilever Entertainment has been behind producing premium content around the world (with titles including Dads and Girls Room) and was once again looking for creative new ideas for their brands to connect with an audience. They saw our success of Carmilla and wanted to explore what that would look like for the Dove Hair brand in Canada.


What is Shaftesbury’s internal ethos when it comes to tackling a project like this?

At Shaftesbury, we have a strong belief in collaboration. We start at the very beginning with a development deal that we put together with a brand. In development, we capture their values and what they are trying to accomplish and then come back with a few ideas that could work for story. It is about the brand, but also about great storytelling. The brand is truly involved from the beginning and so they understand how it will benefit their strategy.

What tentpoles do you stand by to ensure that you do right by both the brand and the target audience?

Story first. This is one of the most important parts of the process for the brand to understand. If we don’t connect and engage an audience with a great story, it may as well just be an ad! We worked collaboratively with Dove Hair to ensure that the audience would find the content of The D Cut relatable and entertaining.


What was the creative process like on this project in relationship to something like Carmilla?

It was very similar. The brand is involved from the beginning, from development, reading scripts to cast selects. We work closely to create an authentic team of TV/Digital professionals who understand and are from the community that we are creating the content for.


How hands-on was Dove Hair during that process?

Dove Hair, and their agencies, were involved from the beginning. We started with weekly meetings in the