How Quibi's carefully plotted debut adapted due to the COVID-19 pandemic

BBH Los Angeles, on board since 2018, gives the inside scoop on its campaign to explain what a Quibi is, followed by a quick pivot at crunch time.

BBH Los Angeles had been working on the Quibi launch since 2018, but in the weeks leading up to the April 6th debut of the mobile streaming app, coronavirus upended everyday life. 

Instead of a Hollywood red-carpet launch, which could have sustained entertainment media for days to come, Quibi marketers increased emphasis on digital campaigns and social media promotions, including ones with Chrissy Teigen and Chance the Rapper, who star in "hero" shows on the service.

Out-of-home advertising was scaled back, as many people are no longer captive to their commutes with quarantines in place.

The agency also had to steer a subtle messaging shift from the "quick bites" 10-minute shows, which are a hallmark of Quibi, to one that also emphasizes fresh content daily.   

"A huge differentiator, in the beginning, was episodes in 10 minutes or less," said Ned McNeilage, BBH LA’s chief creative officer. "That is still the underpinning of the brand...but given that we all have a little bit more time on our hands, we want to let everyone know now these shows are refreshed daily."

Quibi has been one of the most-watched launches of the last few months. Its founder, Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman, symbolize Big Hollywood and Big Tech.  

"It is a big ship, in terms of the size of their ambition," said Daniel Gearing, business director at BBH LA, "It is also, amazingly, a start-up. With Meg, there is very much a Silicon Valley culture, which is move quick, optimize and pivot, and they have that kind of speed and agility on their side." 

It is this optimize-and-pivot mindset that signaled the way to go when business-as-usual was no more. 

"In terms of COVID, as soon as they realized that it would be this disruptive, they were very quick to assess the situation and realize they weren’t about to do a launch party or any kind of premieres," continued Gearing. "In the context of work, that is when we started to shift to these bigger, digital events and digital moments to try to create the same kind of press and interest and conversation, without putting anyone at risk."

Adapting the launch came on top of an already challenging business environment. Quibi enters a crowded field of streaming services that recently absorbed big launches for Disney+ and AT&T TV.  

In addition to representing quick bites for modern life, Quibi is mobile-only, making it a more intimate experience that viewers can customize by tilting their phones from portrait to landscape to change the frame. It launched with around 50 shows to promote, many of which close with a cliffhanger, to build Maslov-like anticipation. 

The broader challenge for BBH was to explain all that to people, then pivot at the last mile. 

The campaign began with BBH positioning Quibi to secure year-one advertisers back in November 2018. 

Then, the agency developed a brand platform and design language in the middle of last year to explain what a Quibi was. In ad copy, Quibi "quick bites" was balanced with "big stories."

A template was developed to later balance "quick bites" with descriptors like "big adrenaline" or "big personalities," as shows were announced. The Quibi stars’ images were boxed by smartphone-shaped rectangles to signal the mobile format.

Since January, the brand has popped up at marquee events. Katzenberg and Whitman went to CES at the beginning of the year to preview Quibi to the tech crowd and global media. This was followed by a Super Bowl commercial and a takeover of the Oscars, with six spots that parodied Hollywood’s finest tropes, such as bank robbers in creepy masks and heroes thrashing about in quicksand. 

BBH LA also set out to interject Quibi, as a term for a short unit of time, into the vernacular. It has surfaced on social media, including usages on Twitter during the Oscars, such as "How many Quibis would ‘The Irishman’ be?" 

Now launched, Quibi as a time-unit is used in a spot by Procter & Gamble’s Charmin brand, with one of the cartoon bears watching Quibi and measuring time, while seated on the toilet. Procter & Gamble, along with Google and Yum Brands’ Taco Bell, were some of the initial advertisers targeted by Quibi and BBH LA to support the platform launch.

With out-of-home advertising scaled back and the big premiere canceled, BBH shifted attention to social takeovers, including the ones with Teigen and Chance.

"We had to think about how we could create big digital events beyond just the digital advertising that we were buying beforehand," said Gearing. "We leaned into Chrissy Teigen’s show, 'Chrissy’s Court' and did a Twitter takeover."

Days before the launch, Teigen used Twitter to adjudicate her fans’ big beefs, which were along the lines of how best to eat string cheese and dealing with neighbors who keep up their Halloween decorations year-round. 

Chance the Rapper, who is helming a revamp of "Punk’d," took over Twitter on April Fool’s Day to preview some of the show’s big stunts.

Now, Quibi is in the marketplace, scoring No. 2 in entertainment on the App Store's Top Charts, behind TikTok. While its 18 to 44-year-old target consumers are not living those busy lives, the kind that were perfect for quick bites of entertainment, shelter-in-place restrictions are giving people more time to explore new content. 

"Everything we do, from a content point of view, has been based on assumptions and theory and now it is in the hands of the people," said McNeilage. "Quibi is a data-driven company, and they will see what people are watching, where the conversation is going and double down on that."

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