Four brand films, four diverse stories and outcomes

Advertising Week proved a relevant opportunity to take the temperature of brand filmmaking and be inspired by great proponents of their craft.

Medically Speaking brought a congressman's crass comments on rape to life in stark fashion.

AMC Loews on Broadway & 66 was a particularly appropriate place to talk about the development of brand films.

At the venue for Advertising Week, I was pleased to moderate a panel of experts to talk about the craft, watch some great work, and discuss where this medium is going.

P.J. Pereira, co-founder of Pereira O’Dell and jury chair of our first Brand Film Festival, in 2016, has just seen a book he edited called The Art of Branded Entertainment go on sale at Amazon. The tome is a compendium of contributions from jurors at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, and it is well worth checking out.

As part of the process, Pereira unearthed five different definitions of branded entertainment, which are worth reviewing:

  1. Entertainment produced by brands.
  2. Advertising you don’t want to skip.
  3. Marketing made to be sought and not designed to interrupt entertainment.
  4. Advertisements that are both a good financial investment for brands and a good investment of time for audiences.
  5. Advertisements that attract their own audience instead of buying time to be watched or played.

All good attempts at defining a craft, and all interesting in their own right, although Pereira points out that we shouldn’t get hung up on definitions. Rather we should just roll with the creative process and the way communications and advertising are heading.

The film he showed was a great example of this: an incredibly timely, moving, and challenging short piece called Medically Speaking produced for nonprofit Ignite and its #WritetheRules campaign.

The one minute 17 seconds film took the real words of a U.S. Congressman about rape and wove them into a dramatic treatment that totally debunked the nonsensical logic behind the statement in a way only film can.

The audience at Loews may have seen the quotes in the media before, but the execution of them in a dramatic way was 10 times more impactful.

Loreen Babcock, CMO of Montefiore Health System, talked us through her award-winning 48-minute-long film called Corazón based on a real-life true story about organ donation that had replaced the concept of the traditional PSA.

It had just picked up the Grand Clio for branded entertainment the night before and was designed to promote the fact that 22,000 people in the U.S. are awaiting transplants. Montefiore partnered with Donate Life and its #GiveYourHeart initiative. It previously won the Grand Prix in the Health & Wellness category at the Cannes Health Lions.

The plot involves a doctor visiting his native Dominican Republic and encountering a young woman who needed revolutionary heart surgery that can only be performed at Montefiore. She was living in desperate circumstances and had been forced into prostitution to support her family.

It’s another challenging piece and took immense bravery on the part of Babcock and the team at Montefiore to embark upon. But it’s incredibly moving and impactful.

Beach footwear and apparel brand Reef also moved the audience with a fantastic piece called First Beach, a three-minute docu-short featuring the emotions of 10 foster children from Arizona experiencing the beach for the first time in San Diego. Watch it through and I’m sure you’ll be as moved as I was when you see the kids’ reactions as they actually see the sea for the first time.

Reef marketing director Jen Wilson and creative agency Haymaker’s founder Matt Johnson explained that foster children aren’t allowed on beaches in California, so they teamed up with nonprofit Urban Surf 4 Kids to give them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

American Express Canada’s director of public affairs and communications Lauren Dineen-Duarte showed an episode of the financial services company’s Travel Inspiration series, focusing on influencer Tyrone Edwards and a trip to Hawaii.

Encouragingly, Dineen-Duarte explained that the conversion levels of people watching the film and then taking positive action in terms of engaging with Amex products were very high, so this film definitely ticked the box in terms of producing real business outcomes.

Four different films and four very different treatments of the brand filmmaking art, all incredibly impressive in their own way.

There’s still no playbook for this stuff and the craft is developing fast. We have tracked this in our three Brand Film Festivals since it launched and will set about constructing our fourth festival when we launch its next iteration on October 16, so watch out for communication around that and check out

What is the definition of brand film? How is it different to advertising? Are they just undisciplined long ads? Is brand filmmaking going to usurp advertising? Can brand films stretch beyond cause marketing and CSR topics?

All good questions that need further discussion, some of which are covered in a podcast I recorded with Pereira, Babcock, and Wilson after the panel.

But, for the time being, let’s just enjoy four great films and the impact they are making on brand storytelling.

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