Brands are Building In-House Film Studios – Here’s Why
Jordan Kelley, Content Director, BrandStorytelling.tv
As the execution of brand-funded films by brands becomes more popular, the brands in question are recognizing that best-in-class brand films require commitment to the craft, and commitment to the craft requires a dedicated team. In the case of Neutrogena, this has resulted in the birth of Neutrogena studios, whose mission is to ‘create compelling and relevant stories that educate about the science behind skin health, celebrate beauty for all, and ultimately inspire people to action’. Their first film “In the Sun” uses the platform of skincare awareness to build a film around education and information on the subject, creating a natural link to one of their main products, sunscreen. But with next to no branded sunscreen appearing in the film, what is the upside for Neutrogena to make a brand funded film if not to showcase product? Why dedicate and fund an entire department to creative that doesn’t function like advertising? In a conversation captured in the Brand Storytelling Network, Neutrogena’s Tyler Rochwerg and Sebastian Garcia-Vinyard along with the film’s director Kristelle ‘Kelsey’ Laroche discuss the impetus behind making such a film and the necessity of creating an in-house film studio:
As marketers, one of the hardest things to do is get people to change their behavior.
Neutrogena classifies itself as a healthcare company, and with climbing skin cancer rates, the marketers at Neutrogena decided to turn to entertainment to reach what was starting to feel like an unreachable and immovable audience. But a film is not an ad, and recognizing that, Neutrogena invested in launching a team whose sole focus became filmmaking.
Because a film has a different set of key performance indicators and different ROI, it needs its own team and its own home. For Neutrogena, that became Neutrogena Studios. Free from the expectations of meeting ad performance standards, the Neutrogena Studios team could focus on KPI’s and ROI that correlate more directly with a film. This meant shifting focus from the number of eyeballs reached to three major tentpoles for a brand film: audience education and entertainment, opportunity for high-profile partnerships, and ultimately free press.
The first goal of the film according to the Neutrogena Studios team was to educate and inform. This goal as a healthcare company gave shape to the film’s title and focus. “In the Sun” follows the personal journeys of seven families facing extraordinary circumstances as they uncover the long-term effects of living in the sun. the film introduces us to Dr. Shirley Chi, a dermatologist on a mission to educate and treat patients, while highlighting simple, but safe, ways to enjoy the beauty of sunshine. Capturing these human stories and the input of an expert results in a film that both informs and entertains.
What’s more is the film is not overladen with Neutrogena product placement (there’s barely any branded sunscreen in the film at all). This drives home to the audience that they’re not being asked for anything but, rather, are simply being asked to educate and protect themselves from the sun regardless of their product choice. This information-first approach keeps the film feeling authentically for the people, which is the kind of thing that attracts the next major upside in the production of brand films – the opportunity to create powerful public partnerships.
According to the Neutrogena Studios team, award-winning actress Kerry Washington is independently passionate about education on skin protection. When they approached her to partner as an executive producer, it was clear that their goals and values aligned, resulting in her support of the film. Gaining the kind of credibility that comes with a celebrity endorsement of this kind is entirely less likely if a brand film doesn’t come from a place rooted in propagating a set of values and educating the public as opposed to putting ‘brand first’. Endorsements like Kerry’s create a bridge between a brand and a consumer who puts their trust in a personality like Washington’s.
Not only does the endorsement of a familiar personality engender good will with audiences, it draws the attention of the press, which brings us to one of the most valuable facets of producing a quality brand film. Because the film has a strong educational foundation and the support of a well-known industry figure, news of the film’s production and release wind up picked up and shared by the industry trades, a phenomenon unavailable to traditional ads. This is the type of press you can’t buy, and therefore has immense value.
Creating content that is sought out by audiences for the purpose of education and entertainment, partnering with high-profile entertainers to produce, and receiving coverage from major entertainment industry trades can only be achieved with the type of dedication that comes from a team whose sole focus is filmmaking. And while Neutrogena Studios learned these truths while putting one foot in front of the other to make “In the Sun”, many others are taking note and following suit. They’re all recognizing that there’s no way to reap the benefits uniquely afforded to quality brand films but to create a dedicated teams and studios committed to ensuring that quality.