Wanted: Authentic brand ambassadors (not celebs) for brand films

Executives from GE and Estee Lauder spoke at a Brand Film Festival panel on Thursday about what they look for in branded content partners.

L-R: Steve Barrett, Andy Goldberg, Nancy Mahon
L-R: Steve Barrett, Andy Goldberg, Nancy Mahon

NEW YORK: Don’t expect GE to pay for a Kendall Jenner tweet.

The "b-to-human" conglomerate wants "geeks," not glamor, said Andy Goldberg, chief creative officer at GE, at the Brand Film Festival workshops in New York on Thursday. The trick is finding people interested in GE technology and engaging them in a conversation.

He contrasted GE’s strategy with brands that lean on celebrities to be their public faces, noting they often endorse several companies or make headlines for the wrong reasons.

"We have a discreet strategy; we don’t spend a lot of money on it," he added. "The brand has to be louder than [those] voices, because that’s just borrowed interest."

Nancy Mahon, SVP of global corporate citizenship and sustainability at Estée Lauder, noted her company’s increasing reliance on its employees, saying they are the brand’s "real influencers."

"We can’t work with someone with no credibility in our space, because when they talk about [the brand], it means nothing," she said.

Mahon added that the MAC AIDS Fund, where she is a member of the board, avoids influencers. Since its founding in 1994, the organization has raised more than $400 million for AIDS-related causes.

The charitable arm of MAC Cosmetics finances projects such as More Than T, a documentary offering a "peek into the daily lives of transgender people" that is set to be released this year. It also produced It’s Not Over, which follows three people diagnosed with or affected by HIV.

Mahon said the game began to change six years ago when she and her team noticed causes becoming commercialized. The right thing for Estée Lauder’s brands is to do something authentic so it doesn’t appear the company is just "shilling for lipstick," she said, adding that companies must evolve as customers expect them to take strong stances on social issues.

"This space is similar to parenting in that as soon as you feel like you know what you’re doing it changes," Mahon said.

The panel also discussed the high cost of brand films and alignment with business objectives. Goldberg said GE wants to make the audience feel "warm and fuzzy" and maybe even "make you cry," and while it cannot take credit for selling a jet engine, films can add value to a brand, which "increases your ability to charge a higher price."

He added that it is important to avoid the potential "echo chamber" of creating content entirely in-house, citing the disastrous Pepsi-Jenner partnership.

"That’s probably where Pepsi went off the rails," he said. "Everyone was listening to themselves about what a great idea is and no one’s challenging you."

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