Over the last few years a new marketing term has entered our vernacular: ‘branded content’ and ‘brand film’. As the word ‘corporate’ fast becomes a dirty word, video content agencies seem to be re-thinking and ‘rebranding’ how they refer to promoting a business. But it’s not a change in language, it’s a radical change in approach.

‘Branded content’ is any form of content that is designed to build awareness of a brand by association. This could be TV, film, video games, events or installations, with the intention of countering traditional advertising. A ‘brand film’ specifically refers to video content made by a brand that is entertainment based. They are content driven and need to be relatable and authentic in order to appeal to an audience.

OK, from this we can understand that in order to be classed as a brand film your video needs creativity and a fresh approach. But spotting (and making) a brand film is not so easy. At Skylark HQ we recently had a very heated debate about the definition of branded content after watching Nike’s big-budget extravaganza ‘You’re It’.

This high-octane and sometimes psychedelic game of tag aims to empower young girls to find confidence in themselves via various sports. Whilst wearing stylish Nike sportswear, of course. It’s creative, it’s got a positive message and it’s not salesy. Surely this is branded content, right? Maybe not. It is still very much a promotion for Nike, with the brand front and centre. The message may appear to be inclusion, self-belief and all that good stuff, but is it authentic? The agenda is still very much PARENTS, BUY OUR SPORTS CLOTHING FOR YOUR KIDS. (It’s worth noting that this is a hero film as part of a larger campaign aimed at engaging young people with sport through online challenges and a real-life tag event. A nice touch and very much branded content.) So, this video is basically just an ad. A creative one without a doubt, but an advert, nevertheless. Nike, you’re not it.

So, what the hell is a ‘brand film’ really? How do you know if you’re ready to make one? And why should you care? We’ve come up with the following guide to spotting a brand film, to help us (and our clients) define their approach to creative video content and avoid any future arguments:

STORY FIRST

Everyone has a story to tell. But does that story have to be about you? “A branded film won’t work if it’s thinly veiled or disingenuous,” says Rebecca Skinner, MD and executive producer at the Los Angeles-based production agency Superprime. “The characters, the setting, and the story have to stand on their own, and the brand message has to naturally tie together as part of the narrative.” In this age of advertising fatigue, the aim of branded content is drive engagement by entertaining rather than selling to the audience. With Christmas coming up we can expect John Lewis to tell us a new story about whimsical childhood dreams. Flight Centre Canada did this nicely last month with a stylish Truman Show-esque vision of a world in which everyone stays ‘within their comfort zone’. It’s a clear, memorable and above all entertaining example of simple storytelling that an audience would actively seek out:

DITCH THE PRODUCTS

Are you ready to take a back seat? If the aim is authenticity, then plugging your product could undermine the whole endeavour. This year MINI teamed with Yorgos Lanthimos (director of Oscar Winning ‘The Favourite’) to make 10-minute festival-only short film ‘Nimic’, featuring absolutely NO MINIS. Why would they do such a thing? According to MINI, it’s to “demonstrate a commitment to creativity and lateral thinking.” Their brand is putting their money where their mouth is.

PROMOTE A CAUSE

Another popular avenue businesses and brands are going down is aligning themselves with a cause. Audiences want to know that they’re supporting a brand that not only gives a good service but has a strong ethical code. What better way to convey this than with video? Prada joined the ranks of companies ‘going green’ this year, partnering with National Geographic to produce this film about re-purposing carpets to save them from landfill. Sure, it’s ultimately promoting their new ‘Re-Nylon’ bag collection, but it doesn’t hurt to talk about sustainability:

So how do you know if you’re ready to produce a brand film? As always it comes down to audience, and where you are on your business journey. Do you want to gift something entertaining to your audience as a form of creative expression? Do you want to create a feeling rather than hard sell to instill trust? Do you want a positive association with your brand to create loyalty? Then it’s worth it. Do you really need to sell something to your audience? That’s fine too but stick to traditional advertising – a brand film is not for you at this point. That’s not to say you can’t still be creative – just look at Nike.

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James Oct 10th, 2019

About James Sampson

James is Creative Director at Skylark Media. He was assistant director for the likes of Casualty and Doctor Who, where he honed his knack for combining compelling storytelling with stunning visuals alongside production management. In his spare time he draws and paints, as well as storyboarding, editing and directing music videos for up-and-coming musicians.