The benefits of branded films

The risk of a strong message can pay off in results

(L-R) P.J. Pereira, Loreen Babcock, Lauren Dineen-Duarte, Jen Wilson, Matt Johnson, Steve Barrett

NEW YORK: Passion is a branded film’s most important asset, because a strong, authentic story can significantly drive results and is easier to promote, said panelists at Advertising Week in New York on Thursday.

The panel included both brand representatives and creative professionals involved in producing successful branded films, and was moderated by Steve Barrett, PRWeek’s VP and editorial director.

Panelist Loreen Babcock, VP and CMO of Montefiore Medical Center, said the brand film "Corazón" changed public perception about her company.

"Corazón" is the story of Elena, a young Dominican prostitute who travels to the U.S. for life-saving medical treatment. In addition to producing the project, the medical center appears in the film - Elena’s surgery could only be performed at Montefiore in the Bronx.

Babcock said the emotional power of the film had a direct and positive impact for her company. The company, she explained, has a "huge" perception problem: many do not know that Montefiore is a center of excellence across the board.

"We have a custom brand tracker which we used on people who watched the film which gave us the ability to see if they were thinking differently about Montefiore," she said. "And they are thinking differently."

Jen Wilson, marketing director for Reef, also found that a film with a strong, heartfelt message drove positive results.

In the last three years Reef, which sells beach-inspired footwear and apparel, has worked with non-profit Urban Surf 4 Kids, to bring at-risk children from group homes to California to experience the beach for the first time.

Reef produced "First Beach," a film showcasing this year’s trip, that brought 10 foster kids from Arizona to La Jolla Shores in San Diego for a beach day and surfing lessons.

"We got a shocking amount of exposure," Wilson said. "We didn’t go into this with traditional KPI goals in mind. We were going to be doing this with [the kids] anyway. But then we decided to capture it and we got the best reaction, especially in KPIs. "

Unsurprisingly, a project that that drives KPIs and changes perceptions is also easier to promote.

"It’s an interesting game we play to popularize branded film," said P.J. Pereira, creative chairman and cofounder of Pereira O'Dell. Pereira helped create "Medically Speaking," a short film sponsored by Ignite, a group that promotes female involvement in the political process to ensure female voices are heard.

In the film, a doctor explains to a rape victim that she couldn’t have been raped because she’s pregnant, and women can’t become impregnated from being raped. The powerful spot ends with a call to action for women to become involved so they can help prevent misogynist ideas from being normalized.

"When you’re doing it right, people are talking about it and the message is out there," Pereira said.

Matt Johnson, founder and chief strategy officer at Haymaker, which helped produce Reef’s "First Beach," agreed.

"There is a certain caliber you have to hit to drive shareability," he said. "It comes down to authenticity. The more authentic you are to the story and how true it is [helps to] get it seen."

An added benefit of branded film, which seems contradictory given that they are often long form projects, is cost. When done right, the panelists said, branded films can sometimes be budget savers.

Lauren Dineen-Duarte, the director of public affairs and communications for American Express Canada, discussed a project she helped produce about a Canadian influencer who is passing on his love of travel to his young daughter.

She said her company often uses production shoots for multiple formats.

"Increasingly on shoots we do video and shoots focused on higher levels of brand subjects," she said. "But at the same time we shoot smaller cuts we can use separately."

And Dineen-Duarte was emphatic when asked by an audience member if it takes a large budget of $100,000 or more to produce a good branded film.

"Less," she replied. "Much, much less."

This article was edited to correct the dollar amount in the quote about branded film budgets.

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