An inflection point in brand storytelling

Brand Film Festival jury chair Jae Goodman shares his views on what he sees as a tipping point in brand filmmaking and opines on the best films in this year's gala screening.

I’ve bet my business on brand filmmaking. That’s how much I believe in it - we’re finally at that inflection point I thought was going to happen 10 years ago.

It is irrefutable at this point - data, not just instinct, supports it.

People are blocking out mobile ads, there’s a button and they’re skipping a 6-second ad, everybody’s fast-forwarding television commercials, and brand scores are falling off as a result.

Marketers cannot justify dumping all of that investment into performance and promotion. There has to be a reinvestment in brand storytelling.

It can’t be interruptive because it’s all being blocked – it has got to be brand storytelling of the type we’re talking about and featuring in the Brand Film Festival.

I might be wrong, and I’ve been saying this for 10 years so I have to believe it, but marketers have to market and, long term, you can’t just drive near-term transaction – it’s not sustainable. The real flood of brand storytelling is just about to happen.

Last year, coming into this year, there were some great films. A film called Home by BBH [part-funded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], in which English actor Jack O’Connell plays a refugee. Then there was a Ford film made out of Sweden called The Family, a stunning drama made in that sparse Scandinavian storytelling, force majeure genre.

Marketers have to market and, long term, you can’t just drive near-term transaction – it’s not sustainable. The real flood of brand storytelling is just about to happen.

Jae Goodman, Observatory Marketing

At last year's Brand Film Festival, there were some great scripted films, such as Armando Bo’s Lifeline for Qualcomm. This year there are more TV and documentary-style films.

Maybe it’s easier for marketers to get their heads around TV-style content rather than filmic, though this year’s Mama Wati surf film certainly fits the latter bill, almost at an esoteric, ethereal level in that there’s no story, like the [1992 non-narrative documentary] Baraka.

Clients can get their head around a documentary far more easily than something else. They will ask for a documentary and I will say "what story do you want to tell and let’s decide if a documentary is the best way to do it."

Television itself is moving more toward film, as you can tell by looking at any show on Netflix, Showtime, or HBO. Westworld, Homeland, and Billions are a movie every week. Brands are making things that look more like what TV used to be.

But even if there’s a dip, or a ‘valley of the transition’ moment, brands are transitioning from making interruptive ads to a more engaging, filmed storytelling approach. But there is a pause in the market where brands are regrouping, figuring out their content marketing strategy, and then going to market, hopefully with powerful brand films.

A few will make a great leap toward brand storytelling - and they’re going to be the winners.

Brand Film Festival 2018 – Goodman’s take on some of the films

Breaking2 – Nike and Dirty Robber with National Geographic Studios

Nike’s Breaking2 is the pinnacle of brand filmmaking. It is as engaging as a piece of entertainment as it is an exhibition of Nike’s core brand values. I am so envious of this project.

The content ran on National Geographic – they did not buy their way on. NatGeo picked it up and ran it as entertainment because that’s exactly what it is. That’s the absolute pinnacle of brand storytelling. Every brand should be there.

Taking Flight – Radio Flyer with Moonbot Studios

I’ve always been touched by it. I might be a little bit biased because it reminds me of the work we did for Chipotle and Moonbot did The Scarecrow animated film and mobile game with us at CAA Marketing.

Radio Flyer is a brand that is like wallpaper in America and around the world. It is part of everybody’s childhood. But it doesn’t have as much emotional resonance as it should. This is the next generation of a family owned company that has decided to tell their story and create an emotional resonance again, and didn’t do it with a commercial, or a Toys’r’us promotion.

They did it through a really beautiful film about the love between a grandfather and a grandson as expressed through Radio Flyer.

Woza – Mami Wata Surf with Pantera

It’s a beautiful piece of cinematography. For all the surf films we’ve all been subjected to (every surf brand has made a surf film) they took the genre and made it so beautifully cinematic and specifically African. Without them telling me what to feel and understand about African surfing, they just showed me and made me feel it. I was really taken by that piece.

I loved it, especially the way they brought in things unrelated to surfing so you understood the layers of culture. The kids in that car is a lasting filmic image for me in any context, let alone a brand filmmaking context.

Bite Size Horror Film Festival – Mars: M&Ms, Snickers, Starburst, Skittles, and Fox Networks Group with All City Content Studio & Fox Digital Studio and Starcom

Candy and Halloween are inextricably linked, so it was an easy strategic leap and an exceptional executional leap to make age-appropriate horror films instead of ads.

Mars is a massive buyer of interruptive advertising, so it’s great to see them leading the way with filmed storytelling. Also, it seems like they very rarely make a portfolio play (versus individual brands), so it’s interesting they took that approach here, making films across multiple brands.

Why Not Now – Charles Schwab and Breakwater Studios

The mobile dry cleaning guy is a brilliant piece of casting. In the universe of people with great business stories, they did an excellent job of finding someone who is so engaging through rather straightforward documentary storytelling.

The film is in many ways a classic case study film – but the casting is everything — his personality comes through, the story comes through. I remember him and his dad and the immigrant story. All of that came over without the brand coming through too heavily, so I appreciate the straightforward filmmaking.

Stories Worth Telling – Princess Cruises and CNN Courageous Studio with PHD

This film so immediately takes me into the world of the chef that I actually forgot I had clicked on a "brand film" for Princess Cruises. This is a good thing!

It engaged me in the story immediately. I loved the chefs talking about the fact you squeeze the berry and the purple ink is on your hands all day.

I was thinking to myself that this incredible chef is running a super-high-end restaurant in Sweden – why am I seeing this? Then it makes the turn and I realize he doesn’t just do this for his restaurant but also for Princess Cruises.

And that’s where I was shaken back to "Oh yeah, I am judging the Brand Film Festival right now." 

I’m not a cruise person. I’ve never been on a cruise and I’ll probably never go on one. But this film made me reconsider for a moment. As a marketer, that’s what storytelling is supposed to do... engage me, take me away, make me reconsider, make me remember that Princess Cruises is the brand who made me feel that way.

Savor.Wavs - Chipotle Mexican Grill and Observatory (a Stagwell and CAA company) with PrettyBird

And then there is Chipotle working with RZA and the rest of Wu-Tang Clan for an interactive musical and filmed experience. I have a soft spot for that work. Okay I love it. What agency did that? Wow. (Goodman smiles.)

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