How Finland’s Epic Equivalent of Saving Private Ryan Flipped the Branded Content Script

The film relied on brand partnerships and became a national hit

One of Finland's most influential films leveraged brands early. Leffat
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Unique funding models for entertainment is nothing new. From brand integration to brands partially or fully-funding content, there is no shortage of money to put towards productions. Additionally, brands have traditionally hit the bandwagon, connecting themselves to entertainment through an array of licensing or other promotions that market their products.

In the case of Finland’s The Unknown Soldier, the filmmakers worked with Helsinki-based Hasan & Partners to develop a new way to work with brands, which helped augment additional, more traditional funding and grants. Where this was most useful was both in the creation of the film and its marketing, with well-known Finnish brands doing most of the heavy lifting. Instead of producers or studios footing the full bill, it was the brands that helped market the movie throughout the filmmaking process.

“The main objective was to set the bar high,” Eka Ruola, executive creative director and CEO of Hasan & Partners, said at Cannes Lions. “We aimed at being the biggest thing in the country altogether, not just the biggest movie.”

The film itself is of great historical importance and reverence to Finns. Based on a 1954 novel by author Väinö Linna, it tells the story of how Finland defended its independence against a major attack from the Soviet Union during World War II. Part of the country’s national identity, the novel has been made into plays, and opera and films twice, the last produced 30 years ago.

“We were building a bridge between generations,” Ruola said. “We want to make sure this story does not go forgotten—because it’s one of the most important stories for the Finnish national identity. We needed our Saving Private Ryan,” a film that powerfully distilled the American experience in the second world war.

Of course, being in a more historical setting, the ability to place brands more traditionally, was not a viable option. However, making brands part of the production from the beginning of the process—a year and a half before release—and creating more of a platform than a campaign, was a savvy move in building consistent buzz for the film, which premiered in October 2017.

One partner, Veikkaus, the national lottery and betting agency, asked their key customers to submit casting reels. The film called for 3,000 extras and, in the end, around 14,000 auditions made their way to producers.

“Our awareness is already 100 percent,” said Olli Sarekoski, chief executive officer of Veikkaus. “What we really liked was this new model where we could be an active partner and provide our customers with a unique experience.”

Other activations, all supported on social media, included national TV campaigns from different companies including food brand Jalostaja, and beverage brand Meira. A special edition of the Finnish magazine Tuntematon, by media brand Alma Media, was released in August 2017 and songs were recorded, including one from a top band that reached  No. 1 in the country. Additionally, throughout the production, brands leveraged film footage and the agency wrote stories which the film’s director, Aku Louhimies, produced specifically for the brands involved.

A particularly engaging and intriguing part of the campaign came from dairy manufacturer Valio. Using AR technology, film posters were placed on milk cartons, allowing Finnish consumers to see parts of the film before its release.

“Millions of milk cartons sparked conversation,” said Ruola. “And (generational) connections were made (about the story).”

Overall, the entirety of the platform proved successful, with the film becoming a top performer with a box office windfall of more than 14 million euro (for reference, Titanic is the nation’s second highest grossing film, with 8 million euro). The content itself, for a country of 5.4 million people, managed to get over 20 million views over various social platforms, a significant achievement, and proof that the model that started well before the release of the film has promise.

“Involve brands, work together and enable them to use the art as a catalyst,” said Ruola. “There are enough logos in the world. We want there to be stories and joint problem-solving.”

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.