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Sub-Genre Media Newsletter:
Semi-frequent musings on indie film, media, branded content and related items from Brian Newman.

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Ten Trends to Embrace for Branded Content

Ten Trends to Embrace in Branded Content
Lately, as I’ve been consulting with many of my brand clients, one thing keeps striking me about the media/film marketplace, and it has quite a few implications for the branded content space. Put simply the field has matured, and that means what was once good enough isn’t any longer. With more brands making good, quality content than ever before, and with the simultaneous rise in SVOD platforms spending more and more to make the best films, Brands making content need to step up their game.
Here are ten areas where I think brands need to concentrate in the next 12-18 months:
  1. Diversity – Everyone is paying lip-service to diversity, but too few brands are taking this seriously. The world has changed – it’s no longer about giving some equal time, but about being relevant to the new majority audience. This means not just more diverse stories in front of the camera, but perhaps more importantly, behind it. And that means not just the director, but the production companies being hired and (if you’re using them) the creatives at your agency. I’ve attended many a branded content conference/event, and trust me, they are currently whiter than the Academy, or the indie film world, and this needs to change.
  2. Up the ante – Take a look at any awards show for branded content, and be honest – there’s a lot of same-old, same-old going on. Brands need to up the ante and raise the stakes a bit. This means several things, but taking more risk, and stepping outside your comfort zone is the underlying need in the space. This also leads to the next four needs;
  3. More narratives – You would think documentary is the only cinematic art-form if you only watched branded content. Of course, if you only watched branded content, you’d need our head examined, but that’s another post. While there are some notable exceptions (Somerstown (shown above), Lego Movie, Uncle DrewMarriott’s Two Bellmen, BMW’s short’s The Hire, Carmilla, among others), too often, brands are focusing all of their messaging around documentary instead of narrative. I get it – no SAG, no agents, it feels easier to jump into docs. More importantly, I think brands are doing this because they crave authenticity – the only buzzword that could top curation this year- and docs seem to lend authenticity to a brand. But this has opened up a big opportunity – with so few brands making narrative films (short or features), a smart brand can really make its mark in this space. How to do this is a longer post, but for now, just consider that narratives open up a whole new area for press, audience recognition, story-telling possibilities and – when done right – could bring more authenticity to a brand. I think this is the future for branded content.
  4. Turn to features – One could argue that brands are making short form content because that’s what people are watching online, it’s easier to view on mobile, especially with our on-the-go lifestyles, and the other usual arguments. And for many productions, this is true, but I suspect a big reason many brands are making shorts is that they just think it’s easier than making a feature. And let’s face it, if that’s your reason, it’s lazy. The decision to make short form vs. long form should be based on your goals, your intended audience and how you want to fit in the cultural conversation (among a few other things).Often times, a brand’s message would be better served by long-form content, be it documentary or narrative. Why? When done right, a feature film can have a greater impact. It’s seen differently, often more seriously, by audiences. It has a different release strategy, which often includes broadcast, theatrical or SVOD – and while these bring their own headaches and stumbling-blocks, they also open up many more avenues for earned media, and for meaningful additional marketing opportunities. While a few brands (and many of my clients, showing my bias) are doing this, more brands need to start playing around in this area.
  5. Top Talent – But you can’t up your game, move into narrative, or make feature films and have a success unless you’re working with the best talent. That means not just turning again and again to the same producers you’ve trusted for so long, and broadening the scope of who you consider. It means looking at their IMDB page and reviews, not just their reel (commercial reels are always pretty slick). It means you’ll have another layer of red-tape, as they all have top agents (meaning a whole other level of asshole). But working with auteurs also brings more credibility, better story-telling, and a whole mess of new earned media opportunities.
  6. More $ - All of these ideas are expensive. But the main reason brands need to increase their investment in branded content is that in a maturing market, you have to up your game and invest in quality content, and good films aren’t cheap. This can’t be driven by a need to cut your advertising budget. While many have been made cheaper, quality documentaries cost $750,000/hr and up. A good narrative film can quickly run into the low Millions. But when Quibi is investing as much as $150,000 per minute for ten minute shorts, your little $7500 Op-Doc style short has a lot more competition.
  7. Truly give creative control – It can’t be said enough – give full creative control to the filmmakers you work with, and you’ll see greater success. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t show you cuts and keep you informed (I’ve seen the lack of communication become a disaster). But stick with what you know best, and let the creatives do the same. Seemingly obvious pro tip – be super clear with your goals, objectives and vision at the start, and build in approvals at different stages if needed (script, rough cut 1, etc.), and things will go easier for both parties.
  8. More partnerships – I’m often shocked at how often brands just go it alone in making films. It seems obvious – own it outright - but it’s not the norm in most filmmaking. There’s usually a few partners involved – studios, different producers/financiers, and in the doc world, there might be 10-20 grant givers involved or more. I think brands need to partner more often, and this will lead to better films, and more help when it comes time for distribution and outreach. Of course, I don’t expect to see Pepsi working with Coke, but The North Face working with Macarthur Foundation, or with the Nature Conservancy, sure.  Behind the scenes, I’m working with some folks to build more of these networks, and hope to announce more soon, but in the near-term, brands should look for like-minded partners to approach their films a bit more often.
  9. Own the marketing – Again, should be obvious, but when it comes to film, too many brands focus on making the film (the thing they don’t know how to do) and forget to build an awesome marketing campaign around it, and that’s where you excel. No one – literally no one – in film not named Disney or A24 understands marketing. Brands do. Keep your focus there. And this means being creative marketing ideas, not just throwing a ton of money at your media agency and hoping for views. You’d think this one would be easy, but countless brands fail at this part of the film business, and I think it’s primarily because they don’t do the next thing.
  10. Think about distribution from day one, not when you’re done – Too often, I get called when a brand has finished a film, and they say some variation of – “we just finished this movie, but now we don’t know what to do, can you help?” Happy to take that business and try my best, but as I tell these callers, that’s usually about a year too late. We’ve learned this in the indie film business and brands need to think about it as well – you need to start building your marketing campaign at the same time that you develop the creative ideas. Sure, things will ramp up as you get to later stages, but so much of your campaign might depend on the type of film you’re making, or it needs ancillary footage to be shot, or it mandates a distribution time-line that needs to be thought about early. Or maybe the audience is on NatGeo, and you should be co-producing instead of trying to sell it to the highest bidder at some festival. Or you need to activate your retail stores, and it might take six months to move that ship. There are lots of reasons, but trust me, you can’t start thinking about this too soon, and if you wait too long, media buys are just about your only (remaining) option. Don’t be that guy premiering your film at a conference/festival, and when the press asks “what’s next” your only answer is – we’re still figuring that out.
And one bonus note.
  1. Skip branded content awards and go for real festivals – This one won’t make me any friends in the festival/awards world, but I say, skip them. They are meaningless. They were made to get big admission fees from brands and agencies, and they’re mainly pushed by agencies so they can show their clients that they can win some award. But the only awards and festivals that matter for branded content are not judged by a bunch of other advertising execs (who are usually white, btw). The important awards are getting into the regular program at a real film festival, or making a film good enough that reviewers want to watch it and you get Rotten Tomato scores, or that audiences show up and you can show butts in seats (or online views), and that lead to more earned media. Premiering at your booth at SXSW, and then winning a brand film fest award, and then getting 5K views on YouTube is not a plan or a success.

Stuff I'm Reading

Disney and the Future of TV - Stratchery has a great write-up on Disney+, why it’s a smart move and the future of TV in general.
In light of last week's post about re-imagining public media, I should point out that the current state of public media is once again under threat. Recode and Kara Swisher interview PBS CEO Paula Kerger about what's at stake.
Still don't understand this whole writers vs agents thing? The American Prospect has a good summary, and ties it more directly to the private equity titans in the room (via Redef).
Disney+ is the service Apple wants - More bets on Apple buying Disney

AI is coming for Hollywood Next: says Nick Bilton in Vanity Fair, and which is exactly what I told the students at Columbia when I visited Ira Deutchman’s class last week. Don’t believe it? Every time you think some Hollywood movie is “formulaic,” it’s a hint at how easily robots will take over this sector.
Branded Content
Creepy Facebook patent uses image recognition to scan your personal photos for brands This one is scary, but worth reading to see our future/present.
Skip the branded content? Luke Blaser, writing for US Campaign, goes against the grain and argues that brands should take a step back when it comes to content creation and focus their resources on the actual products. Where does the promotion then come in? The consumers of course. Let the influences do what they do best.
Fullscreen research demonstrates how branded social content can positively impact offline sales  If that’s your goal.

Don’t make a pot-themed game - because while murder, sex and mayhem are all fair “game” in the gaming industry, even legalized weed is still a no-no when it comes to marketing and promotion of games on Facebook, YouTube, many gaming systems and more, reports TechCrunch. Sickening, if you think about it for too long, I think.
Copyright © 2019 Brian Newman, All rights reserved.

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