On Monday at the swanky Standard Hotel in New York City, around 100 people sat at picnic tables and nibbled on small bags of popcorn to show a short film about restaurants in the city during the pandemic, including those forced to close locations.
The film was made by DoorDash, one of several screenings in the past few weeks made or sponsored by a brand.
“Branded movies” are not a new concept, but they are gaining traction as marketers increasingly look for ways to reach consumers who are trying to avoid advertising and consumers increasingly look for brands that seem to share their values. A recent advertiser perception study found that more than half of the advertisers surveyed see and treat branded or sponsored content as more important today than it did before the pandemic.
This type of content isn’t necessarily a glorified commercial full of product placements. Notable examples are Patagonia’s documentary films on topics such as land use or Dove’s sponsorship of the Oscar-winning short animation film “Hair Love” without any specifications for product placement.
The recent examples are numerous: last week, NBCUniversal said it was working with sponsor Target and producer Will Packer on short films by aspiring black filmmakers to air on NBCU’s channels and digital platforms. Companies like Indeed, 3M and HP showed films related to the Tribeca Film Festival this week. On Friday, top executives from brands like Google and Walmart gathered for Tribeca X, a one-day conference about combining advertising and entertainment, including formats like branded films. Roku, the sponsor of the conference, has also just set up his own branded studio to produce creative advertising formats and programs tailored to marketers.
“I think this is a huge trend,” said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “The main challenge for brands now is that it is very difficult to reach people. The decline in television advertising has deprived brands of one of the most important ways to tell their story and help people learn more about their business looking for ways to help people understand what their brand is really about. ”
DoorDash’s film “Soul of the City” shows restaurant owners in New York City. The company had identified restaurants across the city that were closed or had problems due to the pandemic and then worked on helping them open. The company worked on the film with partners such as The Martin Agency of the Interpublic Group.
It didn’t take long, said DoorDash’s vice president of marketing, Kofi Amoo-Gottfried, that the marketing team was doing all sorts of new roles.
“There are people on my team who figured out how to buy a smoker,” he said. “Things that weren’t the job of marketing, but it became our job.”
Although DoorDash does paid advertising behind its film on channels like YouTube, the video contains little branding and focuses much more on the restaurateurs than on itself.
“Brands are relatively selfish organisms in every way, aren’t they?” said Amoo-Gottfried. “I think what was very clear to us at DoorDash is that we always said we were in business to help the local economy.”
And yes, if restaurants and communities are thriving, that’s good business for DoorDash.
“If you watch the DoorDash ad, it won’t encourage anyone to rush out and order a delivery or a snack right now,” said Calkins. “So you are not promoting any short-term measures. It’s about the long-term brand … it’s a different kind of investment. ”
But it’s an investment brands are increasingly making.
“As the audience continues to change, as there are more streaming options and choices of what people see and how people see, brands are looking for groundbreaking ways to reach audiences that feel authentic because they know that this authentic connection with the brand is stronger than just a single tactic, “said Steven Rummer, SVP of Strategy and Creative Partnerships, Advertising & Partnerships at NBCUniversal.
He said NBCUniversal’s research studies found that 81% of people are more likely to buy or use brands that help others when they need it most, and that 79% of consumers are more loyal to brands that promote the good of communities through the normal business pose.
“We have all of this great research that shows the power and impact of that longer branded movie or branded content and the connection it has with actual results for advertisers,” he said.
Of course, this content actually has to be good, said Marcus Peterzell, CEO of entertainment marketing agency Passion Point Collective, during a panel at Tribeca X.
“It has to be a great film. And if any consumers … “(he paused to grimace)” … because a Samsung phone stuck in their face, you lose. A good movie is good It doesn’t matter if Sony financed it or HP. It’s still a great movie. ”
Peterzell used the example of 3M’s new film “Not The Science Type” which discusses stereotypes and how they can affect the diversity, equity and inclusion of STEM. He said that there are a lot of great movie ideas out there, and if a brand is the catalyzing force behind making an important movie, “that alone is a win for a brand.”
With so many options, despite the infinite possibilities, a branded film has to be something someone can press on.
“If you’re thinking about creating content with or for a brand, how do we make sure it’s entertaining first and actual content first,” said Chris Bruss, director of Roku Brand Studio, on a panel during Tribeca X. “If it’s not entertaining, then it can’t live adequately on a Roku channel or a Hulu.”
Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.