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The Rise of the Brand-Sponsored Film

Jordan Kelley, Content Director,

In a little less than a decade, the amount of branded and brand-sponsored content has grown exponentially, becoming a staple presence on platforms like YouTube and growing in large numbers on streamers like Netflix and Disney+. In turn, Brand Storytelling has grown beyond a single annual event into a multi-event entity and community hub, connecting the best and brightest marketers, advertisers, filmmakers, and brands committed to generating brand-sponsored entertainment for a marketing purpose. The 7th annual Brand Storytelling event, taking place once again in Deer Valley Utah in January of 2022, will honor the proliferation of brand filmmaking that has occurred in the last seven years with the introduction of the Brand Storytelling Theater, a screening space dedicated to showcasing Jury Selected brand films throughout the event.

Ahead of the call for submissions to brands looking to have their film selected and showcased at Brand Storytelling 2022, Brand Storytelling director Rick Parkhill sat down with one of the industry’s leading producers, Rupert Maconick of Saville Productions, to track how this once small space is now going mainstream, the benefits of brand-sponsored filmmaking, and more. Here’s what they had to say:

Maconick produced hundreds of commercials before being approached by brands in 2013 looking to “get on Netflix”. Commercials afforded him the opportunity to foster relationships with great directors like Werner Herzog, Martin Campbell, and others. So, when several brands began to pile on about wanting to find a presence on streaming sites without necessarily knowing how to go about it, for Rupert the answer seemed simple enough – start making films.

Taking the basic marketing principal that says you rely on multiple verticals to reach your audience, Maconick identified quickly that although the traditional verticals had changed, ultimately, brands simply needed to modify what verticals they chose to invest in to reach an evolving audience. In other words, rather than continuing to solely invest in large ads and smaller print campaigns, it would behoove brands to trendwatch and determine where modern consumers were spending their attention.

The resulting findings are all too familiar to us today – that people spend most of their time and attention on social media and commercial-free streaming services. Maconick had landed on a new creative model: collaborate with agencies and brands to produce sponsored entertainment that supports their brands marketing goals and brand purpose but can also be sold to commercial free streamers like Netflix.

Since then, Maconick has gone on to produce some of the most high-profile brand-sponsored documentaries to date, including Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World directed by Werner Herzog for NetScout, 5B, the groundbreaking documentary about the hero nurses of the AIDS epidemic directed by Paul Haggis and Dan Krauss for Johnson & Johnson, and this year’s Own the Room from directors Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster for National Geographic.

When asked why a brand would take a big swing on spending to fund a branded documentary, Maconick provided several reasons, but one rang true as a touchpoint that most if not all brand-sponsored films today have in common: the film’s length offers a genuine opportunity to make an emotional appeal to its audience about a brand’s values. Today’s consumers want to represent brands that are purpose-driven and committed to social good, and where many attempt to convince audiences of their values in 30 seconds and fail, brand films and brand-sponsored documentaries succeed by taking the time to educate, inform, and entertain.

For the less emotionally inclined brand marketer, there’s no ignoring the business benefits, either. Making films the way Maconick does affords brands the rare opportunity to recoup money on content that still supports their brand’s marketing goals, making brand-sponsored films an efficient and effective spend.

Maconick ended on this note – that while the last 65 years of advertising have been dominated by the Ogilvy-driven notion that the brand must be the hero of its own story, today’s consumer is so inundated with choices that they need only engage with what they’re interested in. Therefore, it’s the job of today’s brands not to be the story but to tell one, and that means moving away from interrupting what consumers want to watch and financing the thing they want to watch instead.


Do you have a brand film you'd like to showcase at Brand Storytelling 2022? Submit your film today for the chance to become an official selection for the Brand Storytelling Theater.



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