The Power Inside is a social film created by Toshiba and Intel. Here, supporting actor Zack Pearlman uses his Toshiba to protect himself from the Moustache Alien hoardes.

The Power Inside actor Zack Pearlman uses his Toshiba to protect himself against the Moustache Alien hoardes.

Today is the release of The Power Inside, a new adventure comedy starring Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs) and directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon (The Switch, Blades of Glory).

But the film won’t be coming to theatres near you. Instead, you’ll be able to watch it on Facebook and online over the next couple of weeks. That’s because it’s a “social film series” brought to you by Intel and Toshiba.

While social films are still in their infancy, Toshiba and Intel’s The Power Inside is taking things to another (more meta) level by offering third-party product placement spots. Call it the Russian nested doll of branded entertainment.

…Just what is a social film series?

A social film series is a set of interactive videos released through social media that viewers can engage with and even star in.

The first social film, Him, Her and Them, by entertainment studio Murmur was released in April 2011 and advertised as the first ever Facebook film.

Intel and Toshiba were the first to take the idea of a social film and use it for branded content. They released their first video series, Inside, just months after Murmur.

“We are always looking at new ways to engage and entertain consumers in a brand experience – in particular younger consumers – and this idea is a great way to do that,” says Billie Goldman, Partner Marketing Manager at Intel.

“Social, real-time co-creation with the audience gives us the opportunity to push the boundaries creatively and tell immersive stories that the audience is truly invested in.”

The Power Inside is the third multiplatform social film series presented by partners Intel and Toshiba.

First was the 2011 thriller, Inside, then came the 2012 romance, The Beauty Inside, which scooped up a Daytime Emmy and the coveted Grand Prix in branded content and entertainment at Cannes.

The Power Inside, which will be released in installments via Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, allows viewers to appear in the series by submitting their own homemade videos and photos.

Fans can audition for a role in the new comedy series as either the evil alien Uricks or the heroic Guardians. All they need is a faux moustache or unibrow.

For those who don’t want to appear on screen, the main character in the film series will “engage in a dialogue with the audience, listening and responding to their input through the The Power Inside Facebook page,” says Goldman.

Whose film is it, anyway?

Remember the Wilson volleyball in the 2000 Tom Hanks film Cast Away? Well, Toshiba laptops and the trusty Intel processors that run them play a similarly important role in these social films.

In all three series the Toshiba products were so heavily integrated into the production that the story “would have stalled if it weren’t for the role of the laptop,” as Cannes Lions jury president Scott Donaton told Fast Company in June.

The trend continues with The Power Inside. Spoiler alert: The characters will use Intel and Toshiba products to defeat the evil moustache aliens.

But what makes The Power Inside different from its predecessors is the addition of third-party product placement into the content marketing mix.

Thanks to participating brands like Spotify, Skype, Fossil and Skullcandy, the new series will have more social interaction including giveaways, contests, and more opportunities to appear in the film.

Skullcandy, Skype, Spotify and other brands are getting places in the film in exchange for endorsing the film through giveaways and sweepstakes and other promotions via social media.

Products, well-placed

Intel’s Billie Goldman says that extending the opportunity to outside brands gave Intel and Toshiba more freedom for promotions and giveaways.

Third-party advertisers are not paying for product placement with cash. Instead, they’re helping spread the word about the series via social, PR and paid media and the brands are providing merchandise to give to viewers in weekly contests.

One week, viewers may win a one-month premium membership with Spotify, another week they may win a Fossil watch or Skullcandy headphones.

And for the grand prize, courtesy of Intel and Toshiba themselves – a trip for two to the 2013 World Beard and Moustache Championships in Germany!

Some brands might fear that product placement would detract from the quality of the series or diminish the role their own products play.

But Goldman says that “the product integration is natural and organic and third-party products like SkullCandy and Skype will be utilized as they would in everyday life.”

You know you’ve hit the content marketing sweet spot when other brands are signing up to join in on the alien-killing fun.