Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Jul-Aug 2016

The magic, art and science of meshing branded content into films

Brands
What brands should do to take effective advantage of Pakistan’s cinematic revival.

The hippest, trendiest statement on today’s media landscape has become: “I’m working on a film!” Leaving many oohing and aahing in their wake, dizzy with the idea of cashing-in. And for the most part it is true. We are experiencing a new wave of cinematic revival and the development of an alternate and contemporary film industry. This trend is happily fuelled by a generation with a passion for creating stories that relate to the modern Pakistani cinema-goer, hungry for localised content at the swanky new multiplexes mushrooming across urban centres.

So if everyone who is anyone is currently yearning to make a film, where are the big bucks coming from to fuel this newfound passion? Without any real infrastructure in place for the development of the cinematic arts and box office sales or private funding sources only partly contributing to the bottom-line, it often falls to the filmmaker to find alternative sources of funding.

Pakistani filmmakers are being born through a diversity of backgrounds and industries: advertising, film school graduates, documentarians, writers and storytellers. Their artistic vision and integrity to storytelling will come from different spaces and hence, their approach to “where is the money coming from?” will lead to different internal conflicts.

What comes next may seem like it may involve selling a little bit of your artistic soul, but if used intelligently, can spell success for all involved.

The big bad world of brands!

Already opening up as one of the major sources of revenue generation to bring the vision of young filmmakers to life, brands are slowly beginning to see films as a new space through which to connect with consumers and audiences; something that goes beyond simply ‘sponsoring’ the screening of the latest Bollywood/Hollywood summer flick, but which will actually allow them to engage with audiences in a real and captivating way. In fact, an opportunity to align their brand’s values within a larger context. In short, this becomes a case not of what you say, but how you say it!

So how to intelligently and seamlessly weave a brand into your story, getting the best for both, yet not grabbing the attention of savvy consumers in a way that interrupts their narrative? We must remember that when a brand’s consumer becomes part of an audience for a film, their receptiveness to obviously branded content decreases; the thought of brands interrupting the sacred space of film has long been eyed with disdain by filmmakers and audiences.

It is for this reason that perhaps the good old days of blatant product placement may be over... whether you look at it globally or locally, we are dealing with a smarter audience living life in an on-demand, digital world.

A much-quoted and well-loved example of product placement comes from the Spielberg classic E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, a film that gave me one of my earlier cinematic experiences and a fondness for [candy product] Reese’s Pieces I am yet to outgrow (and now you know exactly how old I am!). The intelligent use of the brand that became famous as ‘alien candy’, both through the film and the tie-up with the brand’s advertising campaign at the time, allowed the brand to catapult to success, leaving M&Ms, the brand which was originally approached (but declined), in tears! Whilst this was fantastic at the time, and may still work well today, and is the very least level of sophistication we need to be aiming for locally, our current times allow us to up the ante to a different level and begin to move towards integrating content and making it part of the storytelling narrative.

After its integration in the movie 'ET', Reese's Pieces' sales increased drastically./Illustration by Creative Unit.
After its integration in the movie 'ET', Reese's Pieces' sales increased drastically./Illustration by Creative Unit.

The fact is that films often, and to varying degrees, imitate life. If we are surrounded by brands in the real world it would be silly to assume that characters would not be. It is natural to see brands appear on screen; a Starbucks logo, a FedEx van or even a can of Coke – what is disruptive is when you hear the voice of the brand rather than the voice of the filmmaker. A classic example of how to nauseate an audience comes from the film Mac and Me... panned by critics and audiences alike as “a thinly veiled feature length commercial for McDonald’s and Coca-Cola” (Rotten Tomatoes). This is very clearly an example of the brand telling the story rather than the filmmaker. Whether this was intentional or not is a different story!


Integrating a brand’s content into a film can be hugely rewarding, but must be fair to both the brand and to the artistic vision of the filmmaker, and also to the larger art of filmmaking.


So how then does one strike gold? By making your product central to the story, the instrument that moves the narrative forward. And here begins the true challenge: the magic, art and science of seamlessly meshing branded content into films.

You’ve Got Mail and its partnership with AOL is a great example of how the then revolutionary brand worked [with the film producers] to integrate the brand’s product offering directly into the script. The brand’s service and novelty of the technology was so inspiring to the writer, Nora Ephron, that she wanted to leverage this new high-tech way of meeting people into her storyline, turning AOL into almost a ‘character’ that became a tri-tagonist, essential to driving the narrative forward. She even agreed to modify the film’s title from You Have Mail to AOL’s signature You’ve Got Mail.

'You’ve Got Mail' and its partnership with AOL is a great example of brand integration.
'You’ve Got Mail' and its partnership with AOL is a great example of brand integration.

Sometimes examples like the above happen purely by luck and sometimes by design. In Pakistan, often the first point of call for both filmmakers and clients is the agency because as partners of both filmmakers and brands, they seem best positioned to discuss the bringing together of both worlds.

However, for agencies to be able to contribute to this endeavour, they need to be brought on-board as early as possible. We often get requests to ‘sponsor’ a film after it has been made or find brands that would be interested in sponsoring a film about to go into production. Not many filmmakers have these conversations at the outset of the process. The harsh reality of the big bad world of brands is often that the subject matter of the film will play a major part in deciding which brands will be interested or even should be approached.

Whether you enter into such an endeavour as a filmmaker looking to bring his creation to life, or as a brand wanting to support a promising initiative, there is an art and science to the process.

Make the inclusion of a brand as natural to the storytelling as possible and the language as colloquial. If it is used as ‘in-real-life’ conversation, it will stick out less; it should never be a force-fit – the objective of a brand is to immerse itself into a storytelling context. If you find natural spaces to fit the brand into the lives of the characters, audiences will accept it as part of the dialogue, but create obvious intrusions and it screams ‘brand’!

An authentic partnership is not always just about the brand being present in the film, but the film being present in the brand’s communication, as Spielberg did with E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and Reese’s, and a fair amount of recent Bollywood and brand partnerships have demonstrated of late.

Integrating a brand’s content into a film can be hugely rewarding, but must be fair to both the brand and to the artistic vision of the filmmaker, and also to the larger art of filmmaking.

However, no matter how you look at it, or how brands and filmmakers work or don’t work together, the revival of the film and silver-screen culture is as promising as it is exciting.

Amber Rauf is Director Strategic Planning & Corporate Communications, MullenLowe Rauf. amber.rauf@mullenlowerauf.com