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Making Brand Films Is Hard! Remember These 4 Things to Make the Process (Slightly) Less Difficult

Jordan Kelley, Content Director,

In a world where the streaming wars are upon us and content is king, it’s no surprise that brands want in on the action. Recently, films like Johnson & Johnson’s 5B, KitchenAid’s A Woman’s Place, and Unilever’s Dads have demonstrated that brands have the power to reach audiences emotionally from the platforms they trust and turn to for entertainment. Evidence that it can be done is often proof enough to brand marketers that they, too, should pursue making a brand film. But all too often the catalyzing idea, “we can do that, too”, is where thinking about what it takes to make a brand film begins and ends, leaving many a brand marketer mired up in unforeseen difficulties months down the road.

Members of the Brand Storytelling Network recently gathered to discuss the difficulties of seeking premium distribution for brand funded films – a thread of conversation which, when unspooled, revealed more than a few pain points people have struggled with in the brand-funded filmmaking process, not just at the distribution level, but from beginning to end. In an effort to learn from what they’ve already had to overcome, here are four major ideas to bear in mind before setting out to make a long-form piece of brand-funded entertainment:

Setting out to make a film is a large endeavor! Plan, plan, and plan some more! Be decisive.

First things first, brands were not built to make movies. The mistake that is all too often made is to try and impose movie making processes on a brand’s internal content and distribution processes. But brands were not built to make movies! Assuming that just getting started, using the departments at one’s disposal and adjusting for incongruencies along the way will work, won’t. Do not impose the movie making process on your ad making infrastructure. Instead, contract experts that can help you focus on ideation, execution, post-production, and distribution. Plan the whole thing out with help from people who know how to prep a film.

Hire a filmmaker and let them do their job! Find one with a passion for the story you also passionately want to tell.

The first piece of advice that will come from your newly hired production support will be to hire a filmmaker. It’s extremely important to decide what story your brand wants to tell in order to then go find your filmmaker who already has a passion for your chosen story. This means watching films, looking for talent, finding someone with a vision who is on the cusp of the opportunity you’re about to provide them. Invest in the research and establish trust so that when it comes time to make the film you can do the most important job you can do as the brand: become hands-off. This is one of the most regularly cited keys to a great brand film by brand marketers – that the film’s excellence is due in great part to letting the director pursue their vision without creative interference. So, don’t interfere and watch while your great film is made.

Selling the C-Suite on traditional KPI’s won’t work. Instead, point to: brand lift, clout, and satellite content.

This is often cited as the most difficult part of the entire process: convincing the organization what the payoff is for making a brand film. You can’t expect traditional KPI’s to work as a selling point when trying to gain approval for your brand film from the C-suite. Instead, think back to what did inspire the decision to pursue a brand film in the first place. Films like 5B are informational and inspiring without focusing on product, which gives J&J the opportunity for brand lift. Audiences left the film with a higher appreciation of the brand for simply involving themselves in creating a product that moved people. Brand affinity has to be a primary selling point when appealing to your organization.

Another benefit that can function as an internal selling point is clout. 5B did many rounds in the press, all with Johnson & Johnson’s name right beside the film’s title. The success of a film has the ability to earn the producing brand an immense amount of press. Finally, if those two indicators aren’t enough, there’s always the opportunity to generate satellite content. Films like A Woman’s Place had a message to get across, but that message included an ad campaign, partnerships with numerous chefs, a mentorship program, etc. This way, the film is also generating content that can be used to measure traditional KPI’s.

Right now, odds are your film won’t land on a big streaming service. But if you want to improve your chances, sell your film under the pretense that it’s entertainment ONLY – never use the word “brand”.

The fact is streaming services are swimming in content. They simply don’t need you the way you need them. They certainly won’t be sold on the notion that a brand has helped pay for a film – currently, all that does is make it easier to say no. All the more reason to walk your film through distribution and try and get it bought as a piece of pure entertainment. The films that have been able to do this are the ones that rely on the merit of their subject and storytelling, not the involvement of a brand.

In the event that your film does not sell to a big streamer, YouTube affords you the opportunity to reach the public on a platform that is still heavily frequented and well liked. The upside is you’ll get analytics the likes of which you’d have never gotten from a major streaming service. Although you won’t have the clout of streaming on Netflix, etc., ultimately, you’ll gain analytic insights into who showed up to view your film.

This sounds hard… why bother?

When brand marketers see a brand film, it’s easy to understand why they then want to make one: there’s an immediate emotional payoff. But it’s important to remember that there’s nothing immediate about generating the product! The brands behind those films went through all of the trials and tribulations listed above but did it anyway. Why? Because there is value in the intangible. The memory of emotion is long, and the right brand with the right film might just make a customer for life after a mere 90 minutes of experiencing a great story. So, go on, be inspired. Make a brand film! But be prepared to face obstacles at every stage.


About Jordan Kelley

Jordan Kelley is the Content Director at He's an essayist, editor, and observer intent on mapping new media trends and disseminating the most relevant information in the world of branded content. Jordan is a lover of stories and an avid consumer of new media.


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