Branded Content Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Bombing

Written by Jim Elkin

Stanley Kubrick was right when he said, “The screen is a magic medium. It has such power that it can retain interest as it conveys emotions and moods that no other art form can hope to tackle.” Branded Content has the power to do the same. In every way. Like any true good art form, you have to be ready to take the first step. Just like a baby learning to crawl and then walk…or in my case stumbling and then flailing wildly…and then curling up into a ball. We all need to fail and that’s what is most important. No human being has ever walked without falling, except many of us have forgotten about that part. We fell many many many times. We got up and we tried again. No matter how hard and fast the floor came flying at our face. We simply forgot that each time we fall, we have learned something. We counterbalanced. We made small gestures with our arms or our legs to walk straight across a floor without falling. We do it now. You’re doing it right now. OK, not right now…you’re reading this sitting down on a chair or on a train or please god don’t read this while you’re crossing the street. That bus almost hit you! We’re just doing all of this without thinking about it. We have been learning to bomb or in this case, fail since we were born.

So, what does that mean for branded content? Well, quite simply, it means the same exact thing. We’re telling a story. You’re telling a story. That story has to mean something. To you and to everyone that watches it. That’s where a filmmaker can come in and help with branded content. It’s telling a story in the best way possible that will resonate with the viewer. But, don’t take my word for it. The Nielsen Company have discovered that brand recall was 86% for branded content and only 65% for regular ads. They also found that good branded content had certain ingredients that made them great. They are: a central personality, a unique concept, and connection with the audience. Most importantly, that content has to fit with the brand.

So, I kind of lied. Filmmakers can help, but we can’t do it alone. It is a collaborative art form in every way. We need other amazing creatives around us. We need collaborators. It takes a village to tell a story. We also need a good brand. We need the right fit with that brand. We need the right stories. When all of these things combine the right way and the right time, that’s where the magic happens.

This reminds me of a story. A story of falling and failing. It was one of my first moments on set when I was just starting out. I was on set with a big budget with a highly skilled large crew. I’ll totally never forget the craft service. We had trays brought to us with these expensive little tea sandwiches with the crust cut off. Someone actually cut the crust off of the sandwich. Not just one sandwich, but like 200 of them. Who does that? How does that even happen? How long did that take someone? I can’t get through cutting off the crust for my 6 year old daughter’s one singular sandwich without complaining loudly like I’ve been working in a coal mine all day long. Anyway, I’ll get back to the sandwich in a little bit. So, we were all waiting for a celebrity to get to set and tension was getting quite thick. Everyone, and I mean everyone, felt like this particular shot of the day was never going to work. The celebrity was very late and there was a lot of pacing, foot tapping and nervous energy. There was a car. A car that the celebrity was supposed to drive. It was a very specific classic car that took about a month to find before the shoot. The celebrity was supposed to enter the car, read their lines to camera and drive off. Pretty simple. So, the celebrity did exactly that. They got in the car. They said their lines. They drove off. Except, this particular celebrity forgot to mention they couldn’t drive. So, when they drove off, they drove right into a ditch. Everyone scrambled and a number of people from the crew screamed. Then, there was just complete silence. The celebrity got out of the car…they dusted off their expensive wardrobe (without a scratch on themselves mind you) and walked back to everyone on set. The craft service person appeared out of nowhere with that same exact tray. The celebrity took the best looking sandwich out of all of them and simply said, “That’s a pretty good sandwich.” There really isn’t a moral to this story, I just really wanted to write about a fantastic sandwich. I also wanted to write about failing. At that time, it felt like everything was over and everyone on set was devastated for the rest of the day. But, in the end we actually did get the shot. It worked. The client was happy and the car wasn’t severely damaged. It’s easy to feel like you failed, but it’s harder to except a real moment in time and just learn from it.

You will fail. That’s just going to happen. You have to except it. Never feel like your story shouldn’t be told. Any story can be compelling and interesting if you’re willing to take a risk. Just tell it the right way and in your own way…I guarantee, that particular story will find the right audience. I’ll leave you with this quote from Sylvester Stallone that is one of my favorites of all time, “It ain’t about how hard you’re hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”