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Brands, producers ‘must compromise’

MIPDOC: Producers and brands working together on branded content must be prepared to compromise to make projects work for both sides, delegates heard in Cannes today.

Alana Hutton-Shaw, co-founder and MD of HareMeetsTortoise Productions, and Jonny Watson, creative director of Mystery Dice, both UK-based, shared the lessons of their own experiences as branded content producers.

“People are often quite pessimistic about brands and factual content,” said Hutton-Shaw. “Filmmakers are concerned that their films are going to be completely destroyed and their characters are going to be replaced by giant Coke bottles, and there are going to be logos slapped all over the place. Brands are concerned that if they step away from TV commercials they are not going to see the return on investment from factual content.”

Hutton-Shaw highlighted her agency’s recent New American Noise campaign for Nokia Mix Radio, a free, unlimited music service for Lumia smartphone users, featuring unknown musicians. “The filmmakers were ecstatic and the brands were also really happy,” she said. “The key to it was that they recognised their positioning and their target demographic.”

The most effective branded content projects were onesn that were not “overbranded,” she said. “Nokia were really hands-off, which is why they were great to work with. They were aware that if they overbranded, people wouldn’t think of them as authentic.”

Watson described his firm’s Tour de Francis campaign around ITV’s coverage of the 2012 Tour de France, sponsored by bike retailer Halfords. “Rather than just show off the hardware, we felt we wanted to tell a deeper story to connect with viewers on a more emotional level,” he said. “This, in turn, gave Halfords credibility because it showed that they really understood cyclists.”

Watson said producers needed to understand what motivated brands in content project work. “Advertisers are used to signing off every full-stop, comma and semi-colon at every stage of the process,” he said. “They are going to be terrified of spending money on a script that they haven’t signed off yet. You have to take them by the hand a bit and create a structure that allows that story to evolve.

“When advertisers spend billions each year trying to show their product in the best light, are they going to let you run off and tell the absolute truth, warts and all, representing their brand? You may well end up having a conversation about which version of the truth each side wants to tell, and hopefully you’ll come to an agreeable compromise.

“Very often the best creative opportunities are the ones that pay the least. So it’s down to you where in that trade-off you want to go, whether you want the money more or the plaudits.”

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