Whilst we in Australia are busy making long ads and calling them branded content, the rest of the world is busy making series, shorts and feature films. It is a shame that we seem to be missing both the boat and the point.
Let’s look at some of the local highlights in branded content over the last couple of years.
Dumb Ways to Die picked up a Gold Lion in Cannes for branded content. Really it’s a long ad, a really great long ad but a long ad nonetheless. The Ship Song was terrific and also a long ad, this time in music video format.
Both these examples were fantastic pieces of content but my point is this – we seem to be making lots and lots of long ads but bugger all series and films. You know with character development, story arcs, and layered narrative all that good stuff. Is it time we thought more broadly about what is possible?
In Australia, we as an advertising and marketing community have tended to stay on safe ground. We stick to what we know, which is making ads. And why not? We know how to do it and have years and years of experience. Plus we have to hand off exactly no creative control to anyone else. Low risk, right?
And freed from the shackles of 15, 30, or if we were really lucky, 60 seconds, we have made some great stuff. Dumb Ways to Die and The Ship Song again being great examples.
However whilst we are busy making long ads let’s look at some things happening elsewhere…
A Short – ‘Desire’ by Jaguar (USA)
‘Desire’ is a 13-minute short film that debuted at Sundance created to promote Jaguar’s F-Type sports car. ‘Desire’ was created by Ridley Scott’s company, stars Emmy Award-winning actor Damian Lewis (Homeland) and is directed by Adam Smith (Doctor Who). ‘Desire’s soundtrack includes none other than indie pop songstress Lana Del Rey.
Here we have a beautifully crafted short film with great actors, direction and narrative. Anyone that sees ‘Desire’ can’t help but at least want a spin in the F-Type. It sounds expensive doesn’t it? Well, wait for this – the whole thing was done for $US92K.
A Series – ‘The Beauty Inside’ by Intel (USA)
The much-celebrated Cannes Grand Prix series that really is great. The series uses metaphor in order to illustrate the product strengths. The basic plot is boy meets girl, girl and boy fall in love but unfortunately boy changes into a completely different body every morning yet he is the same person on the inside. Have a look its worth watching.
‘The Beauty Inside’ is a great idea that has been executed incredibly well and whilst computers are seen organically in the vision it is the narrative that is selling the product. This is such a great demonstration of how it is not necessary to jam your product into the front of every frame to get your message across.
Watch episode 1 here.
A Feature Film – ‘Love in the End’ by Lacta Chocolate (Greece)
Not only did the brand commission a full-length feature film, they actually asked the public – via a Facebook promotion – to provide the storylines. Based on the idea of ‘unfulfilled love’, Greeks sent in their stories, three of which became the foundation of the film. In this case they then took these dramas and ensured there was a happy end for the protagonists.
The film debuted in cinemas all over Greece on Valentine’s Day and beat out Hollywood blockbusters including Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln and Argo, claiming 65% of all ticket sales on that day.
The 20-minute trailer was seen by 20% of the total population of Greece and the film was ranked third of all films released in Greece last year. Wow.
Watch the trailer here.
Another Feature Film – ‘The Movie Out Here’ by Kokanee Beer (Canada)
A feature film based loosely on the brand story was produced for the Canadian market. Look, it’s not a great flick but it is certainly true to its audience’s interests and features plenty of boobs, beers and bigfoot.
Kokanee is known as ‘the beer out here’ (referencing its Western Canadian roots). They also crowd-sourced much of the films content – from extras via auditions (both online and live) to venues, music and even props. The audience played a big role in helping to produce the film. And those that helped were acknowledged in the longest credit role the world has ever seen.
Here's the trailer:
So, whilst we are making little more than long ads, people in other parts of the world are doing some pretty amazing stuff. It would seem that we are lagging a bit and, as a result, missing some pretty big opportunities.
Generally here at home we’re not big on risk and it feels very risky to hard over creative control and final cut to somebody else which is exactly what you have to do when creating films or series.
However when it really comes down to it the people that we hand this control to are the ones that should have it. Directors, producers, writers – they are the ones that went to film school and have worked their entire lives hungry to entertain people.
Branded content must always start by being entertaining. Just because a company is footing the bill rather than a network or government body doesn’t suddenly mean we should abandon content's primary goal, which is to entertain. Branded content is merely content with a new sugar daddy.
Strong and respectful collaborations between incredibly skilled storytellers and creators will lead us to amazing places. We just have to want to go there and want to listen to these people. With open minds.
Then anything can happen.