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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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BrandStorytelling Recap

Updates from the BrandStorytelling Conference:
I’m writing this week from the BrandStorytelling Conference – a twice-a-year, somewhat exclusive gathering of brands, producers, agencies, production companies, etc. that work in branded content, broadly defined. Many of the sessions are closed door so people can share things openly, but I’ve gotten permission from the speakers to cover a few items that I found particularly interesting, and my thoughts on these are below.
Overall, the conference is a great event. It is organized quite well by the presenters – kudos to Rick Parkhill and team. While they can’t fit everyone who wants to attend (literally, there isn’t enough space), you can follow what they are doing and what they are writing on their blog, or by subscribing to their newsletter here. I highly recommend it. So here’s two brief case-studies and some general take-aways.
Lyft’s Brand Partnership with The Equalizer 2 (And 1): Did you catch The Equalizer 2 like everyone else did this past week? Turns out that whole Denzel being a Lyft driver plot-line was not by accident – it was a brand partnership put together by Lyft. Austin Schumacher of Lyft told us that it was the first product integration that Denzel has ever done, which is pretty cool, and shows it was a partnership with the talent as well as the producers/studio.
I love this article from CinemaBlend that points out that Denzel had to learn how to use Lyft just to play the part, but the partnership worked because it made sense – it fit the story naturally enough not to seem like a gimmick. In fact, in my searches online, people don’t seem to even know it was an official partnership, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t given the brand a boost.
It’s very smart product integration – Lyft was mentioned in almost every review of the film, received multiple articles about Denzel learning to Lyft in Boston, and they were able to carry out some cool promos for the film, including one to let some Lyft “Driver Heroes” see the movie for free. Which also fits Lyft’s marketing goals – they market both to drivers and consumers, so keeping drivers happy is a smart move as well.
I have no data, but the earned media had to be through the roof. I did some research and found out Lyft did some promotions around Equalizer 1 as well, so they must have tested the concept and improved upon it this year. Kudos on a great campaign, that went far beyond product placement.

They also showcased the new season of their partnership with Kevin Hart – Kevin Hart, Lyft Legend on the Laugh Out Loud Network. It’s a great little short-form, episodic series with Kevin picking up unsuspecting real passengers, in disguise as Donald Mac. It’s in keeping with Lyft’s more humorous brand (Uber would never do this), and again, it’s a true partnership because Lyft gains from the association with Kevin on some smart marketing, but Kevin Hart also gains as he builds his Laugh Out Loud network with comedy. Austin told us that Kevin agreed to 15 hour days and didn’t request his usual extra payments to promote it on his social media – because it was mutually beneficial. Again, a great campaign.

NatGeo and BMW take branded content “further” with Behind the Shot:  John Campbell of NatGeo took to the stage to discuss their recent partnership with BMW on Behind the Shot. It’s great.
NatGeo is the number one brand on social. Their main Instagram (they have a few channels) has 89.4 Million subscribers, and as I mentioned last week, they are doing some great things on IGTV. How do they do this? As John explained on stage, they have done two important things: 1) they moved from a monologue to a dialogue with their consumers – participatory culture; and 2) they let their photographers curate their Instagram instead of the brand curating it – they give some control to the artists, so they can do their job and be authentic.
And they also have a mission/purpose, which for NatGeo is called “Further,” showing people doing amazing things and pushing the envelope to do something better, epitomized by their Further Community. Or as their website says: “This year, as one of the largest and most trusted global media brands, we’re partnering with a new class of influencers to create original stories around travel, culture, science, innovation, and wildlife. These are stories told from the human angle and about motivation, survival, discovery, wonder, and mind-blowing courage and bravery.”
For this project, NatGeo worked with four different photographers and each one had an assignment. For example, Anand Varma followed bees and used a newly developed tiny camera to go inside the hive and capture them in never before seen shots. You can watch that episode here. In each case, the photographers also captured BMW, usually by going to the locations in a nice new BMW X3. It’s not subtle brand integration, but it helped make some cool short form content.
Most of the series was launched on Instagram Stories, meaning it’s disappeared from there by now, but you can watch most of the videos online and on the Facebook page for the project. There were ten chapters on Instagram and they ended up with 56M+ impressions, 3M+ video views, 85K social impressions, and this in turn led to a significant lift in awareness of the X3 redesign and 37% of people surveyed associated BMW with the “Capable of More” tagline. This is pretty impressive for any kind of campaign like this.
Important takeaways: Stories are super popular now on Instagram, and most people at the conference agreed that Stories beat the feed by far. While NatGeo and BMW are big brands, anyone doing content online should follow their lead – IG Stories, giving artists some freedom, be authentic, have a mission, and you can have a big impact via social stories alone – this didn’t need a broadcast component at all. Campbell reported that after NatGeo CEO Gary Knell spoke about the project with a large group of photographers, they all went from skeptics of branded content to seeing the power of using brands to amplify their message, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of these projects from NatGeo in the future.
Other takeaways from the conference: Brands are starting to make bigger investments in this space. Whether it’s episodic, short form, long form or even text based stories, managers are putting a lot more money and time (and people) into branded content and “upping their game.” Everyone also wants better metrics – but no one is sure what matters most, and the consensus is that each brand is making up their own, with a heavy lean on earned media as being more important than impressions. That said, just like in the traditional doc world, there’s a lot of boredom with the metric movement. More brands are launching in-house studios, and will work with freelancers, but are coming up with more IP and guidance internally (me: they should also act like studios and focus on what they know best – branding and marketing). Very few people are doing long-form content that can end up on Netflix, but that’s everyone’s goal (ironic since Netflix doesn’t give you numbers).


Marriott has been super active in this space and had some of the best advice: move towards owning your IP; look at content that can be franchised; Monetize; Own your library; live content is a growing area (concerts, etc.); and their digital magazine has given great ROI – content is not just video. And they’ve done such a great job that now other brands want to be featured in Marriott’s branded content, which is a nice sign of success.
Overall the space is maturing and people are setting best practices and moving towards some smarter measurement, but right now are going with their guts that this stuff works. I’m already looking forward to the next conference in January.

Stuff I'm Reading

5.4 Million Customers will cut the Cord in 2018: Making for a loss of $5.5 Billion for the industry, and bringing the cumulative total to 18.8 Million cord cutters, according to a report from cg42 in MarketWatch. Me: So who is watching all those shows being made on those channels? How does anyone compete with Netflix, et al.? Fun times.

Did your Congressional Reps sell you out on Net Neutrality? Find out how much money your representatives took from big media against Net Neutrality in the FFTF Battle For the Net Congressional Scoreboard. It shows who voted for what (For/against) and how much money they got to do so, and also helps you thank the good folks and slam the bad. Nice little tool, but buried under a lot of requests for donations from the Org – they do good work, but beg more than PBS.
Where should you premiere your short film? Everywhere, all at once, says Short of the Week (ht/Sundance Creative Distribution Newsletter), and I agree 1 million percent. The article is a great study of festivals vs. online, with many case studies and lots of data to back up their argument. Be ubiquitous.
BitTorrent Acquired by Blockchain Company, Tron: Nearly every single blockchain for film proposal I’ve seen sounds like BitTorrent 2.0, and now Tron has realized that too, and just went and bought them (reportedly for $126 million via Variety). Another move for a decentralized web/film platform, but the real story here for now is that you just can’t kill BitTorrent, though many an owner has tried.
VACATION from the newsletter/blog and social mediaEver since 2010, I’ve been taking a vacation from all social media and blogging/writing the newsletter during the month of August. And I go off email for 2 weeks in late August. It’s a much-needed break from the interwebs and busying my mind with often useless stuff that distracts from real creativity (imho).
A couple of years ago, I came back from vacation, but dropped Twitter permanently. Last August, I came back and decided to take everything except Instagram off my phone and only use social media on my work computer. Around the time of the election, I decided to drop Instagram off the phone too, and in January, I pretty much stopped using everything completely. And I don’t miss it at all. I highly recommend taking an extended break. If you read a real newspaper, you won’t miss any news items, and I guarantee you won’t miss the vitriol or FOMO. Weirdly, I’ve been using LinkedIn a bit, which I used to hate. But I’ve found that more and more people are using it for work related posts of relevant info, and they tend to avoid politics. I post this newsletter there and check posts from some key, smart friends once a week.
Why am I telling you all this? Two reasons. First, the newsletter/blog is going on hiatus until the week after Labor Day. Hope you enjoy the break from my writing as much as I will. And two – to encourage you to do the same. Take a break for one month sometime. If you work in media/arts, no one seems to work in August anyway, so it’s a great time to try it.
Til September…
Copyright © 2018 Brian Newman, All rights reserved.

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