Brand films can't sugarcoat the truth

Brand Film Festival New York panelists shared how brands can avoid sterilizing the truth.

L to R: Murphy, Hagen, Frankel, Bildsten, Miller, Stein

NEW YORK: Just as sticking to safe stories can be death to creativity, brands have to challenge themselves and their audiences with the films they make, according to a group of panelists at the PRWeek U.S. and Campaign U.S. Brand Film Festival New York on Thursday.

"Brands have so much power and so much room to use their voices for good, I think it’s important to almost get a little uncomfortable," said panelist Mara Frankel, senior creative director of brand partnerships at Atlantic Records. "[It’s] about telling a story that’s not being told."

One example of this, said panelist Brent Miller, associate director of global beauty communications at Procter & Gamble, is the CPG giant’s film The Words that MatterIt focuses on Procter & Gamble’s history of discrimination against LGBTQ employees and how it first introduced sexual orientation into its corporate diversity initiatives.

Another difficult film discussed at the panel was Bare Existence, which was created by Stept Studios on behalf of Canada Goose and Polar Bear International. That film follows the plight of the polar bear, including graphic footage of adult bears eating their young to stave off starvation.

"If you take on that subject matter, you don’t sugarcoat it," said panelist Lindsey Hagen, executive producer of branded content at Stept Studios.

Panelist Josh Murphy, a producer and director at Liars & Thieves, a production and editorial company, said it was important for brands to advocate for change through their content and films. His feature documentary for Patagonia, Artifishal, targeted the salmon fishing industry with criticism harsh enough that "the opposition [aquaculture company CleanFish] launched a counter campaign called #Benefishal."

"We said, ‘Hey, we’ve arrived,’" Murphy said. "You know you have a cause when there’s a counter-cause. We’re poking people in the eye and creating dialogue and doing our job as storytellers."

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