February 28, 2019 • By Aaron Orlowski
During the Emmys last September, a 60-second TV spot debuted for the first time. In it, a high, foreboding note chimes on a piano as NBA star James Harden intones, “Listen carefully.”
A series of celebrities go on to issue semi-serious warnings: Never fly first class, says actor Joe Manganiello. Never date Joe Manganiello, says Sofia Vergara, his wife. Never get a king-sized bed, says Harden. Never upgrade to three-ply, says comedian Sarah Silverman.
But most importantly, never get Hulu, warns Manganiello. It’ll ruin TV for you forever.
As the spot first aired, Nick Tran, MBA ‘11 and vice president of brand and culture marketing at Hulu, was at Hulu’s Emmys party with his wife, who was nearly nine months pregnant at the time. Everyone was about to watch the first broadcast of the commercial that would launch the “Better Ruins Everything” marketing campaign that Tran and his team had been developing for months prior.
It was already an exciting night: Hulu was up for 27 Emmy Award nominations and insiders knew Hulu had won a few of them. With the commercial about to air, Tran gave a quick introduction and congratulated the team, and it started — 60 seconds later the brand moved into a new phase.
“I was thrilled,” Tran recalls. “The CEO said later it was one of the highlights of the night to see our brand in a new way.”
The campaign, a joint effort between Hulu and creative agency BFT, was ultimately rolled out across television spots, billboards, digital ads and social media. Tran and his team lead the campaign within Hulu, garnering alignment from the CMO and CEO and providing a sneak peak of the campaign at a companywide meeting.
“The campaign was essentially based on the insight that we needed to change the perception of what people thought of the Hulu brand,” Tran says. “Most people knew we were a product in the streaming space and associated us with next day TV. But we also have a new live TV offering and an expansive on demand library. We knew that we offered so much more than what people gave us credit for.”
While Tran had worked on bigger marketing campaigns before, this was his first major campaign at Hulu.
“This was probably one that I was most passionate about because I was tasked with helping to refresh the Hulu brand,” Tran says. “When you’re tasked with something like that, you put a lot of energy and heart into it.”
Then, a week and a half after the campaign launched, Tran and his wife had their second child.
Tran’s education at the Merage School enabled him to switch to the career that ultimately led him to Hulu. Before earning his MBA, Tran worked in IT consulting, but he always felt that marketing was the most interesting space for him — where he felt the most excited.
Tran chose the Merage School because of his tie to Orange County — he was born and raised here — and because of the sense of community at the school. “I felt it was better to have a really meaningful relationship with 100 people than to be acquaintances with 300 people,” Tran says.
He arrived without much marketing experience, and so the foundational principles and academic theory gave him a foundation from which to jump off.
“The digital marketing strategy lessons helped me be aware of how quickly things evolve,” Tran says. “In the digital world, it’s not how much you know about digital marketing so much as it is knowing how to do marketing in this digital space.”
After graduation, Tran started his new marketing career at Taco Bell doing digital marketing and social media, then was poached to be vice president of marketing at Stance, a socks and underwear brand. He was then recruited by Samsung Electronics and, ultimately, Hulu.
Tran urges strivers who are looking for success to find a niche that meets their passions — where the time flies during work. Then, identify the white space that others are unfamiliar with or reluctant to dive into and focus on quickly becoming an expert in that space. For Tran, that meant immersing himself in social media, a space many brands were reluctant and scared to enter.
Lastly, Tran says, take on the hard challenges and do things you love. Sometimes the riskiest projects — like rebuilding a brand — yield the most reward.
“Don’t do things to chase a title or money or whatever else people chase. If you do something you love and you do it for the right reason, that’s where it gets really exciting,” Tran says. “I love building brands. I love creating campaigns. I love doing stunt-y things in the marketplace that make people excited. The role I’m in now allows me to do that.”