Brand film comes of age

The work on display in PRWeek, Campaign and MM+M’s celebration of brand filmmaking is a testament to a format that is increasingly driving return on marketing and communications investment.

"Hometown — Shot on iPhone by Phillip Youmans" was named Brand Film of the Year at the 2021 Brand Film Awards US.
"Hometown — Shot on iPhone by Phillip Youmans" was named Brand Film of the Year at the 2021 Brand Film Awards US.

The sixth iteration of our Brand Film Awards took place virtually this week and showcased a genre that has evolved immeasurably over that time.

In the early years of the awards, too many films featured awkward product placements inserted because brand managers thought they needed to mirror advertising techniques. It was as if they made the film and went back in having watched it to insert the obligatory statement from the brand.

Alternatively, the treatments were simply long ads, often self-indulgent activations because the filmmakers were released from the constraints of directing for a tight 30 second spot.

Filmmakers have subsequently worked out how to tell effective stories that are completely in line with brands’ values. They have also mastered the art of making the product a fully functioning character in the narrative, such as the Bronco vehicle reimagined in Ford’s Built Wild series, featuring mountaineer and filmmaker Jimmy Chin as both an actor and director.

Viewers want to consume high-quality content and they are not bothered whether it is produced by brands, as long as it is credible and compelling. Filmmakers are enjoying the opportunity to get films funded and made that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do.

One fine example is the Brand Film of the Year for 2021, Hometown — Shot on iPhone by Phillip Youmans for Apple, with help from TBWA\Media Arts Lab, Smuggler and OMD, which was completely on point.

Hometown focuses on four very different photographers who are documenting the Black experience in America. Youmans highlighted the differences between the four expertly in his choice of score, camera angles, lighting and other aspects of his direction and cinematography.

As one juror noted: “It is totally diverse with different layers, on point with the cultural zeitgeist of the past year, and manages to promote the iPhone product without expressly promoting the product.”

Former Brand Film Awards jury chair Jae Goodman, CEO of Observatory, which won Best in Music/Entertainment for its film Wheelin' & Dealin': The Bobby Spencer Story for Busch Beer, has been at the heart of brand film’s development, basing his whole agency around the construct.

“Quality overall is way up, as is the expression of brand values and ethos through filmed storytelling, as opposed to clunky product inclusions, films far afield from brand values, and long TV commercials posing as ‘brand films’,” he said.

It’s a stealth marketing format that is increasingly aligning itself with TV programming structures, whether in film length and segments or fiction and non-fiction documentary-style series.

Every brand or corporation should be assessing the opportunities offered by brand film to be an intrinsic part of an integrated storytelling process. And the case studies of the films honored at this week’s Brand Film Awards are an excellent place to start the research and planning process.

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