As audiences migrate to commercial-free streaming platforms, more and more brands are looking to engage consumers through entertaining original programming. And the entertainment world has caught on to that reality.
Hollywood is responsible for today's best adverts and promotional films, not advertisers. People are sometimes shocked by this idea, but it's absolutely true. The Lego Movie is a cinematic advertisement for Legos. The upcoming film, Assassin's Creed, is a $200 million promotion for the popular video game series.
Of course, different types of brands have different options available to them. But no matter the budget, level of brand awareness or consumer appeal, almost any brand can entertain through one of three primary approaches.
Build a story universe around a product
There is a small percentage of brands that can be described as sexy—luxury car companies, fine watchmakers, high-end liquors and other aspirational goods.
These types of brands could greatly benefit from creating original films and television shows around their products. This is the model that Marvel has used to incredible effect. Each Marvel film is a cinematic advertisement for the Marvel product universe, which includes toys, games, clothing and rides. Marvel films are such great selling tools because they are extremely entertaining.
High-end brands looking to capitalize on the allure of their products need to be willing to create innovative story worlds that consumers want to inhabit. There's no reason The Night Manager couldn't have been developed and produced by an outerwear company. Or Stranger Things by Levi's.
Unfortunately, what often happens is that a brand decides too late that it would like to be associated with a particular entertainment franchise, and as a result, it ends up paying much more in high-cost endorsements than it would have if it had engaged a studio or production company earlier in the process.
Start a conversation around a product, service or set of values
Most brands don't fall into the small percentage of aspirational goods. For these companies, one option is to create a conversation around a particular topic, or to create an association with a particular set of values. This is actually an old model, dating back to the advent of television. It's also what Mutual of Omaha did with Wild Kingdom—a family values company supporting a family values show.
The impact of this approach can be huge. Recently, we collaborated with Pereira & O'Dell and NetScout to create a documentary film. NetScout is a business-to-business network solutions company, and it wanted to start a global conversation about the internet and internet security.
With the wrong approach, this project could have been quite dull.
To reach and engage broad audience, we needed to find a way to make the film entertaining. We needed a point of view able to bring the subject to life. We asked Werner Herzog, a man so disinterested in technology he doesn't even carry a cell phone, if he would be interested in directing. Werner was immediately intrigued.
The finished film, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, takes viewers on an unforgettable journey from the birth of cyberspace to the internet's current place in virtually every aspect of our lives. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was purchased by Magnolia Pictures for theatrical distribution. We attribute the film's success to one obvious fact—it is wildly entertaining.
Align your brand with a force for good
There are some brands that aren't the most attractive to consumers—cleaning products, hygiene products, etc. Brands like these can create entertaining programming by aligning themselves with a particular cause.
A recent Brookings report found roughly 90 percent of millennials want to support brands that do good. Brookings also reported that 89 percent of all American consumers said they would consider switching brands to one associated with a good cause if price and quality were equal.
Rather than creating commercials that interrupt entertainment, these brands could benefit from documentary and scripted collaborations in support of socially relevant causes.
Many filmmakers have created their own charities and are invested in creating powerful entertainment that promotes them. Paul Haggis, for example, is the founder of Artists for Peace and Justice, a nonprofit that supports communities in Haiti through programs in education, healthcare and dignity through the arts. A cinematic documentary or a fictional series that supports a nonprofit like APJ is an excellent option for everyday brands.
The advertising world is transforming, but we are not without a North Star. Blockbuster films and streaming platforms like Netflix are captivating global audiences with entertaining programming. It's time for us in the advertising industry to recognize we can no longer find success by interrupting consumers with brand-driven messages. We must become a part of the original film, TV and online programming that audiences want to watch.
Rupert Maconick is the founder of Saville Productions (@savilleprod), a production company specializing in branded entertainment. He also serves as a juror for the Adweek ARC Awards, the first awards program devoted to honoring the best in branded storytelling. The deadline to submit entries is Nov. 7.