Think Like a Creative: Q&A with EP Davey Spens
Jordan P. Kelley, Content Director, Brand Storytelling
Too often, ad department thinking is employed to solve for the questions presented by creating branded content. The reality is that the machinations of the advertising pipeline can’t adequately be reappropriated to churn out an altogether different product. The best branded content shares more DNA with entertainment than it does with advertising, and as such should be approached from the perspective of an entertainment problem-solver.
Davey Spens is one such problem solver. The Stept Studios EP is a multi-hyphenate with a background in creative direction and ideation. The content creation approach he’s brought to Stept is original and effective, drawing on his previous experiences to put a different spin on how to source original ideas for brands as well as extend the value of those ideas beyond single-serving content. Brand Storytelling caught up with Spens to discuss the merits of creative ideation, storyfinding, and employing an entertainment mindset to creating content with brands:
What is your take on some of the pitfalls that plague brands looking to make really good branded content?
I once heard someone talk about raising children as like holding a glass in your hands - you can’t help but leave fingerprints.
Everything we develop and make carries our fingerprints. It’s why entertainment commissioned and created by brands works for brands - the fingerprints are all there.
But there’s a huge gulf between ‘branded content’ and meaningful branded storytelling. The stories that we remember, talk about and share, are stories that leave a fingerprint in our culture. They don’t just entertain, they add something meaningful to our collective conversation.
What is your approach to content ideation and storyfinding?
I remember ten or so years ago when I started in this field, I wrote down two questions: Is it useful? Is It entertaining? It was a very simple filter that helped me focus on making films that played to the ways audiences use the digital space, and not create content you need to convince people to engage with. These days I’d go one step further and ask ‘Is it meaningful?’
I want to tell stories that don’t just fill a gap or scratch an entertainment itch but add something positive to the conversations happening in culture.
At Stept we try to seek out characters and stories that speak to the idea of ‘human capacity’ - projects that explore ideas about everything that we as humans can do, be, believe and achieve. And instead of telling those stories on behalf of others, we make space for our protagonists to talk about their own experiences, in their voice and in their own way.
What do you find to be the advantages of pitching to brands proactively as opposed to waiting for an RFP?
Our favorite conversations are ‘What ifs?’ - dreaming and originating fresh entertainment ideas for brands. We love to be collaborative, so it doesn’t matter how those conversations start, whether from a formal RFP or one of our original ideas. Our approach is always the same, to stand in the space between the world of brands and the world of entertainment, to think critically and strategically and to develop ideas that enthrall and entertain, but always leave something meaningful behind.
At its best, what do you think branded content can achieve?
Branded Entertainment is Entertainment. What can entertainment achieve? Its influences are unparalleled in culture. Collected, shared, responded to, anticipated and consumed. Stories are fundamentally social, connecting people through shared experiences and meaning. The best increase empathy and make us and our lives better.
I was talking to a major US sports brand last week about a campaign we’re developing together around advocacy for young LGBTQ+ athletes. As we talked statistics and the power of conversations around identity at the grassroots level, our own goalposts shifted from simply creating a platform to tell stories, to building a year-round activity that could inspire a thousand conversations that could maybe save a life.
The stories that we remember, talk about and share, are stories that leave fingerprints on our culture. At its best Branded Entertainment can make sure those fingerprints are as meaningful and powerful as possible.
About Davey Spens
Davey Spens is the Exec Creative Director of Stept Studios Entertainment, a division of Stept; A creative, production and post studio.
About Stept Studios
Stept is an award-winning creative and production studio known for work that feels more like entertainment than advertising. Stept partners with brands, agencies, and platforms to create campaigns, commercials, and branded content with authenticity at its core. Their award-winning roster of directors represents the next generation of storytellers, working across commercial and documentary genres. Learn more - visit https://www.steptstudios.com/