There’s a movement afoot. You might not have noticed it, because it’s been gradual. But more and more brands are turning their backs on traditional video commercials, opting instead for social video marketing. Often, this includes the creation of original branded web series content designed to draw the viewer in, create conversations around the brand, and keep the customer engaged. DirecTV is just the latest example, with their “new series” Football Cops, which stars NFL players (and brothers) Peyton and Eli Manning.

What Exactly Is DirecTV’s Football Cops?

What is Football Cops? That’s a good question. Because there is no real clear information on that. In fact, I think the mystery is part of the promotion. Is it a funny commercial spoofing cop shows, or is it an actual full-blown show? We don’t have any answers yet, because all we’ve seen so far is a “trailer,” which is pretty entertaining in its own right. Check it out:

On the surface, DirecTV is presenting this as a legitimate new series, available only from them. There’s even an official website, with episode breakdowns for three episodes, character biographies, and even “Extras” like wallpapers, buddy icons, and ring-tones.

The official YouTube description (on DirecTV’s channel) even says that Football Cops is a new fall drama. I’m not so sure that DirecTV isn’t having a little fun at our expense.

First of all, DirecTV is not a television channel, it’s a cable competitor. Of course, these days, anyone can make a “series,” from Netflix to YouTube… so why not DirecTV?

But unless all the episodes are going to be extremely short, there’s no way this is a legit series. Why? Because Peyton and Eli Manning are full time football players. Not only will they not have time to sustain a full television series, but they aren’t actors… they want to win Super Bowls, not Emmys.

What’s more likely is that this is a web series, with a handful of short episodes, all of which were probably shot over the course of a few days or a week. DirecTV will roll them out one by one as football season approaches, and probably hopes to publicize their Sunday Ticket package–which gives viewers their choice of watching any and all NFL football games.

Why Is This A Great Branded Web Series Campaign?

Peyton Manning already has a reputation of being one of the funnier professional athletes, having starred in numerous popular commercials. Heck, his turn hosting Saturday Night Live was universally praised as well. He’s a likable guy. And despite a bit of overexposure, he’s a bankable star for brands to turn to when they need to pull some viewers with a funny ad.

Here’s a classic Master Card ad starring Manning:

There are enough fans that like Manning to ensure that the Football Cops videos–whatever they end up looking like–will get plenty of views. Which should help DirecTV get some face-time with football fans. But by positioning Football Cops as a new show, they’re able to brand it without really branding it–watch the trailer again above and you’ll see very little evidence of DirecTV in the actual content. Instead, the branding on a social video like this one is in the “sponsorship”–or, in this case, the fact that DirecTV is the creator and home of this new “series.”

Audiences are pretty savvy these days, and very wary of ads. When a brand goes this far out of their way to remove traditional branding messages and replace it with entertaining content, those walls with viewers begin to break down.