Why Big Brands Are Using a Filmmaker’s Perspective to Tell Their Stories


Currently in its fourth year, the Tribeca X Award at the Tribeca Film Festival celebrates the intersection of advertising and storytelling. While in previous years the award went to the best piece of brand-supported content, this year’s program has expanded to honor works in four categories: feature film, short film, episodic, and VR.

In addition, the festival launched Tribeca X: A Day of Conversations. The event on April 26 brought together creatives and industry professionals for a day of keynotes and panels discussing branded content.

“Filmmaking brings an entirely different creative lens to what we know,” said Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of Procter & Gamble. “We are on the edge of one of the greatest revolutions of creativity that advertising has ever seen,” Pritchard added.

Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia and executive producer of Tribeca X finalist, “Artifishal: The Road to Extinction is Paved With Good Intentions” explained that while the company won’t be making money on the documentary, the film is “the best way to elicit people’s emotions.”

Emotional appeals are especially important when it comes to keeping a viewer engaged for a long-form piece of content, which is a common concern among marketers hoping to dip their toes into telling these types of stories. At a time when attention spans and therefore ads are continually getting shorter, the idea of foraying into feature-length content can seem daunting and counterintuitive. However, many stories demand additional depth.

“If you connect with the emotions of the consumer, they will allow you more time to tell your story,” said Peter Van Overstraeten, vp of premium and super premium marketing at Anheuser-Busch.

One example of this emotionally engaging storytelling is HP’s “History of Memory,” winner of the Tribeca X Award in the episodic category. The series is made up of four unique short documentaries that “celebrate the power of printed photographs to change our lives.”

“Everybody has those images that really help define who you are and that’s what we’re exploring in this series,” said Angela Matusik, HP’s head of Brand Journalism. “Our brand promise is to improve the world with technology and when you think about what storytelling does, particularly film, it’s essentially helping to do that at the same time,” she said.

HP’s new Brand Journalism unit focuses on bringing the qualities and the ethics of journalism to brand storytelling. “We’re looking to change the way we communicate with audiences, with world-class storytelling, working with really strong artists who are fantastic narrative experts when it comes to connecting with people on this sort of emotional level,” Matusik told Adweek.

This sort of strategic change requires a completely different approach to projects. “We’re not writing scripts for people, we’re not using big agencies, we’re not holding large casting calls. This isn’t the way people are traditionally connecting with audiences through brands, but the idea is that we’re hitting some people at the core. You watch the films and you have an instant reaction, you have an emotional reaction.”

The need for this content, Matusik explained, comes from a shift in behavior where consumers are looking for things that have more meaning. “We’ve had so many people come up to us after seeing these films and tell us the stories of their own photographs that mean so much to them. It’s that kind of instant emotional reaction that I think you get from a longer-form story.”

In many cases, the impact of these projects can’t be measured solely by traditional metrics. In addition to the typical reach and engagement metrics, having a call-to-action makes impact measurement more tangible. Whether it be signing a petition, spreading awareness for a cause, or donating to a nonprofit, establishing a concrete action for the viewer will allow your efforts to go beyond the visual representation.

In HP’s case, they are working with data company Knotch to survey viewers directly after they watch an episode. “The key for brands is to be able to measure these types of impacts of storytelling as more of a long-term win,” Matusik said.

For marketers willing to take the leap, Matusik has a few key pieces of advice. “First thing to ask yourself is ‘Am I being respectful of our audience’s time? Are we giving them something that has meaning and is worth watching?’”

How do you accomplish this? Matusik says to find stories with a definitive story arc. “They’re documentaries but there is a beginning, a middle and an end to them and they really do hit you on an emotional level.” Matusik stressed that you have to know what your goal is and use that goal as a guide when searching for creatives to collaborate with.

“I think it’s a really exciting partnership that’s happening between creatives and brands right now,” she said.

This article was written by Nick Gardner from Adweek and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

There is no endorsement, affiliation, or sponsorship between Getty Images and the companies/services mentioned/linked within this article.