Jordan Kelley, Content Director, BrandStorytelling.tv
Brands like Synchrony Bank have evolved beyond commercials and billboards, taking a less conventional and more artistic approach to advertising. Narrative short films such as Pay Day allow for unique collaborations between marketing executives and traditional filmmakers to experiment with bold methods of storytelling and redefine what branded content actually means.
During the Elevate Summer Session, Brand Storytelling hosted director Morgan Cooper and Cindy Weisskopf (Managing Director, Brand, Promotions & Advertising Leader, Consumer Banking, Synchrony Bank) to deconstruct the creative process behind the award winning film Pay Day and explore the trends and techniques that blur the lines between advertising and entertainment.
Morgan Cooper is a Los Angeles-based writer and director using his voice as a filmmaker to positively impact society and inspire the next generation of young black filmmakers. He recently had Bel-Air, his dramatic reimagining of the Will Smith sit-com, picked up for a two-season order by NBC’s Peacock. With Bel-Air, Cooper demonstrates his ability to bring an artfulness and gravitas to something people typically see one-dimensionally. The same can be said for his work on the Synchrony Bank short film Pay Day.
In the film, the main character Nyssa experiences a Groundhog Day-like scenario in which she spends her whole paycheck over and over. In any other ad, this would all be played for laughs, in, out, over and done with in 30 seconds. But in Cooper’s short film, there’s a magnetic quality that keeps you watching. That’s because this filmmaker’s film paid for by a brand doesn’t feel like an ad, or even a brand film – it feels like a film, full stop. And it’s fun (and inspiring) to watch.
This was Cindy Weisskopf’s goal all along. Cindy has led the development of award-winning advertising that’s helped grow the consumer bank seven times in size in seven years. Under her tenure, she’s fused entertainment with banking through multi-year promotions and credit sponsorships with Marvel Studios. Her objective to bring fun and storytelling to this film depended on finding a creative force interested in telling a good story before anything else. “If you lead with story, and that story finds an integral but unobtrusive way to incorporate the brand, you’re on the right track,” said Weisskopf.
Pay Day incorporates plenty of branding for Synchrony, but it's deliberate and utilized to great effect in the natural progression of the film’s story. Although the message is about saving, which anchors the brand to the story’s lesson, ultimately the story drives the film, not the necessitated presence of Synchrony bank. This agreement on the parts of the filmmaker and the brand, to satisfy the brand needs in an artful way and to build on the art with the brand’s presence, is one that resulted in a genuinely fun to watch brand film, which makes one wonder why more brands can’t achieve the same level of branded entertainment.
Credit is owed where credit is due - to Weisskopf and her understanding of the reservations held on both sides of the partnership. “Yes, tracking how many individuals were driven to your website, the cost of driving them, and time spent learning about your product are important” said Weisskopf, “but if you’re investing in a film, your soft KPI’s like good comment response and buzz in social media are important to consider as well.” Importantly, consider the soft KPI value of good will toward your brand, or creating an association between the brand and great creative, an investment now paying additional dividends with the sale of Cooper’s new show.
Synchrony’s tapping of director Morgan Cooper gave them a huge leg-up in the production of this film. Cooper gets funding to work on an exciting project with great collaborators and Synchrony gets a top-quality award-winning piece of content and association with a talented up-and-coming director. Brands looking to make content at the level of Pay Day can learn from its example. This content can strike a balance between being integral to the story but not obtrusive. There is immense value in contextual branding and brand lift by association. Seek out premiere talent looking for funding and give them a platform from which to elevate themselves and your brand along with them.
About Jordan Kelley
Jordan Kelley is a versatile creative intent on mapping new media trends and disseminating the most relevant information in the world of branded content. He is a lover of stories and an avid consumer of visual media.