Do audiences care if a brand is behind a film? No.

But brand films are harder to make than mass-market entertainment, said Brand Film Awards panelists.

NEW YORK: Audiences no longer see a difference between brand films and regular films, according to panelists at the Brand Film Awards. 

Marc Battaglia, executive creative director at Marriott International, said audiences are more accepting of brands playing in the entertainment space. Viewers don’t see a difference between a sports documentary produced by HBO and one created by Red Bull. “They just see a great story,” he said.

To create that great story, brands should think like a media company or a producer and put the audience first. When producing brand entertainment, you have to flip everything you did as a marketer and become truly viewer-centric, explains Battaglia. 

Even before COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders, audiences were looking for stories in different places, said panelist Senain Kheshgi, cofounder of Majority, a production company dedicated to advancing the careers of women in film.

“Audiences don’t really care where the story comes from as long as the value of the work and the storytelling chops are there,” she said. “From a filmmaker’s perspective, [with brand films] you have to reach the audience beyond the audience the brand already has. How do you reach them and inspire them to some sort of action?”

Mike Prochaska, director of content development at online fundraising platform Omaze, said that to get the best brand film possible, you have to take a leap of faith as a brand and enlist the right person to tell the story.

“So many of our assets are promotional in nature and are direct responses,” he said. “We want our viewers to take action; our highest goal is to maximize funds we are raising for the nonprofit. So how do you balance that with creative content? We want it to feel authentic and not feel overly branded. That’s our balancing act.”

Prochaska acknowledged that talent partners and brands now are more willing to find that balance. 

“They are more like, ‘Hey this could be fun,’” he said. “It doesn’t have to be the old charity videos with sad puppies that people are used to seeing.”

While there’s a learning curve for both marketers and filmmakers when collaborating on a brand film, Kheshgi is finding more brands are getting excited about that creative process and filmmakers aren’t as worried about who has the final cut. 

“Now filmmakers are more interested in creating something exciting, something beautiful,” she said.

But that’s easier said than done. Battaglia said brand entertainment is harder to create than mass-market entertainment. 

“It’s hard as hell to just make a great story, a great film,” he said. “It’s even harder when you add that additional layer on all of these groups working to achieve an emotional connection back to a brand. When it’s done right, it’s amazing. Angels sing from the heavens. But when it’s bad, it really stands out.”

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