A VAGUELY HUMOROUS REPORT FROM THE FRONT LINES OF BRANDED CONTENT
Nah, I don’t do advertising! You must be confused. My expertise is long form storytelling and my medium is film and television. Sure, I’ve seen the stuff. I’ve enjoyed it from time to time, hated it more often than not but it’s certainly not something I make. I make REAL things, the gold that brings eyeballs to the screen and yes, sometimes ads run in between my acts. But that’s it. I swear!
Ok, maybe I’m not telling the whole truth here. Please allow me to explain.
Advertising has always been a volatile world. Consumers are insanely finicky and there is too much money at stake for the industry to be anything other than a Darwinian battle where only the obsessively vigilant survive. But over the last ten or so years the notoriously brutal industry has seen tectonic shifts that have demolished many of the tried and true models for success and even a few ad agencies along the way. Some of these changes have been cultural, some technological and all of them have made the advertiser’s path forward even more complex than before. As a result, the smart agencies and companies have begun looking for new ways to deliver their messages to potential consumers.
And yes, I admit it. That’s where I come in.
For anyone who is unfamiliar with the term Branded Content, it’s when a company, brand or ad agency works directly with a director, producer or production company to make films and TV shows (i.e. content). Think BMW films. This content is then delivered to potential consumers the same ways regular shows or films are. Sometimes the company’s message is overtly stated within the program but more often than not the connection is subtle and nuanced. It makes sense. In a world where people’s attention is more fractured than ever, their patience at an all time low, and their DVRs allowing them to fast forward through commercials, it’s wise to quietly make your sales pitch in the show itself. There are even studies that prove that the impact of the advertiser’s message is deeper and longer lasting when delivered in this manner*.
I’ve never pursued a career in advertising but over the years I’ve seen a sizable portion of the industry migrate into my realm of expertise – long form storytelling. And since I like paying my rent, I happily accept these jobs. Hell, at this point I’ve even gone out and successfully pitched these types of collaborations. Why not? It’s a Win-Win. During the film or show the company gets their needed face time with their consumer. And, while crafting the film, I have the opportunity to a) not starve and b) further refine my filmmaking skills that I will soon use to make the greatest film the world has ever seen. Stand by for that. Give me, like, 3 years.
My latest venture in Branded Content is the feature length documentary I directed for Heineken. It’s by far the deepest and most overt company message I’ve ever delivered. I’m not sure there’s ever been a project exactly like this one before. Most of the film isn’t about beer specifically yet it’s impossible to watch that film and not reach for a Heineken the second the credit roll begins. The film simply operates on a level that traditional advertising could never hope to achieve.
Of course comparing a 30-second beer ad against a 90-minute film is apples and oranges. And I certainly don’t believe that nonsense about traditional forms of advertising being dead. Never that. Compact forms of communication will always be needed. But once you escape the confines of the 30-second TV spot an entire new level of understanding and engagement becomes possible. And there is tremendous commercial potential in that basic truth.
So, back to the shocking revelation that I actually work in advertising. Turns out I’ve been doing it on and off since 2002 as an editor, producer, and director. And of course I’m being silly when I pretend to hide that fact. I’m actually rather proud of some of that work. Truth be told, I’ve gotten to collaborate with some of the greatest people in the advertising world and some visionary companies through these projects. We’ve taught each other a lot. True, I’m definitely glad my career is much broader than just Branded Content but I don’t dare think about where I’d be would be without it.
Full Disclosure: I, Michael John Warren, am a freelance film director and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. My entire Director’s Portfolio is viewable at mjwfilms.com and my Branded Content Credentials can be seen here.