Once Upon a Branded Film
Once Upon a Branded Film

How brands can build a narrative strategy around the feature film story.

It's Friday AM. You are a little hungover. Last night, as part of a large party of 300 guests, you premiered the brand film that consumed you for the past eight months. This feature film was your baby. You pushed the idea internally, you managed it, you were on set every day with the director – it was even on you to negotiate that detailed contract with both your Oscar-winning director and the YouTube star who acts in it.

And today your inbox is filled with congratulations, your phone is blowing up with texts from people in the industry you haven't spoken with in years. One of your colleagues pops by and tells you to check out Ad Age. There’s a nice little write up on the film and a devilishly well-worded quote from you.

You make your way over to YouTube to see the view count. Not bad. With some digital and social paid push from your media agency and your influencers, this should be a great success.

And as you lean back in your chair and look out the window to a beautiful and buzzing Central Park, your hangover has dissipated. You recall a conversation with your CEO the night before where he congratulated you on this momentous occasion. He said, "with this film, our brand really has an opportunity to own the conversation on individuality and the pursuit of passion."

Eight Months Later
Outside of a couple of awards your film is up for, no one has talked about your film in six months. You sit down across from your CEO and he looks at you with the "what have you done for me lately" gleam in his eyes. You scramble for ideas, wondering where that momentum has gone.

 

 

For that answer, you need to look back about 16 months, when you first had this idea and pitched it within the company, before the shooting ever began.

Here are some questions you probably should have asked:

  • What narrative is our brand trying to own in the hearts and minds of our customers and prospects?
  • Is this content unique and providing value they can't get elsewhere - either entertaining or informing them?
  • What is the content strategy we are developing around this premium content to continue the storytelling and really own this narrative?
  • How are we going to release, distribute and monetize this content so that we reap direct and indirect benefits for the next 18+ months from release?

The decision to develop a brand film cannot be part of a one-off strategy these days. To rely solely on an individual piece of content to "change the world" is simply a mistake. The great influencers of our time are pumping out content across YouTube and Instagram on a daily basis. They have engraved a behavior of constant and consistent value into their audiences’ minds.

Think of your branded content communications as the NFL season. Your brand film that you spent eight months working towards is your Super Bowl. Prior to that, you had five preseason games, sixteen regular season games and three playoff games. The season is long. You have had wins and losses, but more wins.

You have had fans and brand advocates following you this whole time. They have been watching, sharing and engaging your video and other content. They have been generating their own content around some of your engagement strategies, and they may have even shown up at some of your events. They have been following your biggest stars.

Now its Super Bowl time. This is a celebration for your biggest fans. This is the moment you reward them for their loyalty and affirm their identity through your ownership of a brand narrative.

But there are other audiences, too. Some have been following you on and off throughout the season and others really don't know you at all. The Super Bowl is a time when they focus. For some of them, this is the top of the funnel awareness of your team. Now some will end up being casual admirers of your film, but others will now see the brand in a whole new way and come next year's preseason, they are there catching every moment.

Simply stated, making a brand film is not just about making a brand film. It's about how tying it all together in a larger ecosystem of storytelling and ultimately to driving business results.

Outside of developing a larger content strategy, here is an overview of some other common areas to look at with regards to engagement and distribution:

  • Owning the data. Are you only distributing your content across third-party platforms or are you developing an owned environment where you can capture vital data? Should you be using social to promote this content during an early release period to drive those to the environment before a larger wide release?
  • Product integration. Is there an opportunity to create special products around this film or special packages inspired by it? Beyond just product placement in the film? Tying direct ROI to this creative endeavor is a key way to showcase the value your brand film provides beyond brand equity lift.
  • Experience. First - yes you should have a brand premiere event. Maybe multiple if it makes sense for your audience and the geographical diversification. But, your brand film is tied to a larger narrative. And those larger narratives should be inspiring other events from product activations or round table discussions. You should see this film as a gateway to broadening a conversation in person.
  • Licensing. - Ready for this. If you made actual compelling content it has value to content buyers. There is a need for more and more premium content. Don't expect millions and millions of dollars, but between domestic and international licensing over a two-year period there is a real opportunity to recoup your production costs.

So back to you. Your brand film could have been the most beautiful and compelling piece of content your brand has ever created, but without a larger storytelling and engagement strategy it will continue to be the "remember that great thing we did two years ago" vs. the hallmark piece of content that inspired your communication, turned bystanders into fans, fans into loyalists and generated real return for your organization.

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