EXCLUSIVE: Branded content is reaching new heights of sophistication and recognition, with a new documentary funded entirely by Red Bull premiering to critical acclaim at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Entitled McConkey (see teaser clip below), the film charts the rise and fall of adrenalin sporting junkie Shane McConkey and was commissioned by Red Bull Media House – the same creators of last year’s Art of Flight, which also had a theatrical release.
Since its premiere on Monday at the festival founded by screen legend, Robert De Niro, the film has been commended as “worthy of the big screen” by The Hollywood Reporter and “remarkable” by the Los Angeles Times.
McConkey comes hot on the heels of a short film funded by GE late last year called Meet Mr Toilet which was selected from GE’s ‘Focus Forward’ short film series to premiere at Sundance Film Festival.
Once upon a time the concept of branded content attracting artistic recognition was impossible to fathom.
But today both of these brands are forging the sector’s evolution, bestowing more and more resources upon, and yielding more and more creative power to, passionate independent filmmakers.
“Content is king. We always will put the brand secondary to a good story and good filmmaking. We are trying to pull away from what I call the ‘can in hand’ approach,” said Greg Jacobs, head of distribution, Red Bull Media House.
“[The audeince] will know who brought them these stories and they will know that we put them where they could find them. They will know it’s Red Bull. We don’t need to hit them over the head, and if brands are hitting you over the head then they don’t understand the space.”
Both Jacobs and GE’s executive director of global brand marketing, Linda Boff, spoke as part of a branded content panel at Tribeca Film Festival this week.
Ironically, branded content can be a highly effective way to build brands but only when visible branding is minimised. Focusing on engaging stories which align, subtly, with brand values and attributes, is the best way to genuinely engage audiences.
“Invention, progress and innovation is our heritage. So that’s what we try to mirror in our marketing,” said Boff.
“When we are able to tell our story in a way that’s fresh and contemporary we get extra credit for it. People kind of double click in and say ‘Wow, you’re working with all these cool filmmakers’, or ‘you were one of the first brands on Instagram’.
“It’s all about brand adjacency. For us there was a very focused strategy about releasing [our Focus Forward films] at top film festivals, and I think it’s critical to get that sort of association.”
While capturing stories of extreme endeavours forms an integral part of building Red Bull’s brand, the energy drink company has elevated the purpose of its content to a whole new level.
“I have one goal which is revenue,” said Jacobs. “[Red Bull Media House] is a revenue-centric company.”
With content production now a significant revenue stream for the brand, Jacobs is focused on distributing it in the most profitable manner.
The content created around Felix Baumgartner’s celebrated space jump earlier this year, which was also funded by Red Bull, not only sky-rocketed the brand to global stardom but poured money into the corporate coffers.
“We did a deal with Discovery linear then with YouTube digital. We had eight million concurrent views on the internet. What I realised was that we can now take Stratos to all these different facets and make it work and monetise it. That put us on the map,” he said.
Now, with so many possible distribution channels, Jacobs believes the future of branded content is burning bright. But perfecting the channel mix is going to be a big challenge for everyone.
“If somebody tells you they understand the media business today they are lying to you. It is a decentralised market place there is so much opportunity out there.
“You can do a little bit here on theatrical, a little bit there on subscription video on demand (SVOD) and Netflix, you can have a linear play, you can go do electronic sell-through (EST). How awesome is that.
“You create a really cool piece of content and you do some windowing and you let it go.”
GE’s Boff agrees. “If you try to control too much then I think you lose the opportunity for authenticity… These days with social and digital part of what we have to do is let go of the brand a little bit.”
* Maddie Ross is currently on the ground in Tribeca documenting the Festival for B&T