How Rob Dyrdek’s “Fantasy Factory” Created a Model for Content Marketing

Broadly speaking, advertising means creating content you want people to see; it is pushing. Content marketing is pull: content creation public wants to see – and will actively search for themselves.

That’s why for many businesses, content marketing forms the backbone of their marketing efforts, hopefully attracting customers in a helpful, useful, and benefit-driven way.

Sounds great, but successful content marketing is hard. It’s hard to create innovative content that attracts an audience, that effectively tells your brand story, that helps an audience connect with your products or services. Embedding your brand without appearing as poorly concealed advertising is difficult.

The result is an additional challenge that a conversation with a reader pointed out: finding great examples of content marketing to use to inform your approach.

The first thing that came to mind was Ryan Reynolds. Produced by Maximum Effort, the advertising agency he co-founded, Reynolds’ Aviation Gin videos have garnered millions of views because they were entertaining above all else.

Gin is the Trojan horse. (I should know, I bought some. And I don’t even like gin.)

But perhaps the best example of great content marketing is Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factorythe MTV series that ran from 2009 to 2015.

Rob and big, Dyrdek’s first MTV series, was a big hit, but Dyrdek wanted to expand beyond what was effectively a buddy comedy. During what turned out to be the final season of Rob and bighe sold MTV on Ridiculousbut MTV wanted him to do another reality show as well.

“They offered me money to do another reality show,” he told Graham Bensinger, “or to do another season of Rob and big.” He agonized over the decision; he didn’t want to do another reality show, but the money was too tempting.

So, over the course of a weekend, he described the first season of what was then called The fantastic life. “Each episode was going to be about a different one of my companies,” Dyrdek said, “and I would comedic produce it … and they were like, ‘Oh, we love it. We will take it. “

But with a caveat: Dyrdek would own all of his embedding rights. MTV couldn’t say no to any company he owned appearing on the show. Then, when it came to major brand endorsements, Dyrdek and MTV shared equal rights: MTV could say no to any brands Dyrdek suggested, and Dyrdek could do the same.

What Dyrdek was savvy enough to exploit (or as he puts it, “I tricked them”):

I would write these immensely complex and integrated brand partnerships with their advertisers. So that they [MTV] didn’t care, because it was like, ‘Oh, man, you’re killing it for our announcers.’

And then I would go and do a big deal next to the announcer.

By setting it up like that, it became a built-in marketing machine… veiled in funny, absurd comedy.

Over time, Dyrdek would be attacked by a shark. Mutilated by a lion. Set a record for building the largest skateboard in the world. Racing ostriches. Set a Guinness World Record for the world’s longest car jump in reverse.

While marketing major brands like DC Shoes, Chevrolet and Kraft Foods. As well as the variety of clothing, toys, media and other brands he owned.

This all sounds completely self-serving, but here’s the problem: Fantastic factory ran for seven seasons and the episodes were repeated countless times. Fans of the series clearly loved it. They showed up for Rob, and Channelle, and Drama, and Big Cat, and all the other characters and celebrities that appeared on the show.

Marks ? They were Trojan horses.

As Dyrdek said in an interview with a former Inc. editor Rod Kurtz:

It starts with a big idea first. “OK, I’m going to break the world record for jumping a car backwards.” And you’ve got this big Chevy integration deal that’s going to be cross-platform – social/viral and mass retail with Viacom integrating into the TV series.

If you tell a great story with the right brand integration, you never wonder if the brand is involved, because the brand is essential to the realization of the story. Viewers don’t think a brand was just stuck in there.

They realize that without this brand, this story would not be possible.

This is how you create great content. Start with what your audience wants to see. To learn. To discover. For entertainment, information or education. (Hopefully all three.)

The goal is to benefit the public.

Next, figure out how your brand — or, as Dyrdek did, other brands you own or want to associate with — can be involved. Just make sure your brand is essential to the story.

Then more people will be attracted to your content because it benefits them.

And then you won’t have to sell it.

Because when you let your audience pull, you don’t have to push.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.