Interview with Pereira O’Dell’s PJ Pereira

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I recently interviewed a number of industry experts for my recent WTF is branded content? It’s complicated article for Contagious. I hope to publish the transcripts as a series here on LinkedIn. The first is with Pereira & O’Dell’s co-founder and creative head PJ Pereira. He’s won multiple awards including the Grand Prix for the Branded Content and Entertainment category at Cannes Lions, and was also chair of Eurobest’s first Branded Content & Entertainment jury last year.

It’s hoped that this series of interviews will prompt further discussion about what branded content is and isn’t, and how is it is different from branded entertainment, content marketing and all the other related terms being bandied about like native advertising.

For PJ, branded content is both the oldest and newest form of advertising at the same time. He thinks it is exactly what the industry has been doing since the soap operas of the past, but just being done in a different way now. There are a few things in this space that are important to him and one of those is where things are heading:

If you look beyond the branded content marketing category, then it’s possible in the near future that there won’t be lots of categories any more. It will just be about what is the best way to bring a message to consumers in a way that they can understand and relate to.

The categories as they exist now still make sense to PJ because they show different ways to approach this. For example, digital approaches this from an innovation stand-point most of the time; print is about trying to find the most compact way of telling a story; and film and video is mostly grounded in the short format and based on the premise that you can buy consumers time. However, he thinks that the premise for branded content is to assume that you can’t buy the consumers’ time, and that you want them to give you their time:

For me, something that is worth the consumer’s time is the best definition of what branded content is. So if you think more radically and try and stretch that definition, then even a 30 second spot is branded content if it’s worth the consumers’ time. And I’m fine with that, as I like to play through those lines.

PJ’s not sure if this helps or not from a definition point of view, but not getting too hung up on categories possibly provides a clue to the secret of Pereira O’Dell’s success. The other is PJ’s belief in doing things differently:

We’re in an industry that is supposed to be changing the formats it uses and the way it operates often because it should be about doing things differently. So when I see a jury that is too focused on definitions about what a category is, and what it’s not, that tends to feel to me to be a lost opportunity to re-demarcate rather than dictate the market.

I wondered how this worked in practice when it came to judging awards for a particular category:

I’ve chaired a lot of juries, and in general my approach to this is that a jury needs be the most humble and professional in the industry. I mean this in the sense that they need to leave their assumptions and definitions at the door, before looking at the work to see what emerges as working in best way possible. So when juries don’t find a best in show, it can feel like the jury was trying too hard to tell the world what that category is about.

PJ doesn’t think it’s up to the jury to determine what the category is. He think this is something that gets defined as it goes along by the industry, the market, the agencies and clients, and most of all consumers. So for PJ, juries should be looking at how things are evolving, and just react to what speaks to them in order to highlight what’s great and what’s not:

Once a jury tries too hard to define a category, it can become more like teaching the industry about what it is supposed to be about. I think that’s when you start doing everyone a disservice, because that seems like an agenda, and for me that’s the wrong way to approach judging.

That’s why PJ thinks the discussion of whether something is branded content or a TV spot is the wrong one, especially when it comes to juries. What he appears to be addressing is the problem that branded content attempts to solve for brands, based around how value is delivered to their audiences:

The fact is the more we loose control of buying consumers time the more important branded content becomes, and why something that was old and dead like early soap operas becomes trendy again. We can no longer guarantee that people are watching 30 second spots, so we have to work in a different mindset to get them to want to spend time engaging with what we are doing. This means having to compete with the regular programming, and not just being inserted in the middle on the assumption that they are going to be paying attention to us.

As mentioned in my Contagious contribution, what’s interesting about PJ’s comments is that it’s stand out examples by agencies like his that are helping driving adoption of branded content, rather than the definition discussion. Whether the playing through the lines that PJ mentions above will lead to a consolidation of award categories remains to be seen, but his explanation of why Pereira & O’Dell do what they do provides a possible glimpse of the shape of things and why there’s a growing consensus that branded content will be at the heart of every strategy.

Check out the BOBCM case study of Pereira O’Dell’s multiple award winning Beauty Inside social film project for Intel and Toshiba, and read why it’s been nominated for our Expert Example section here.

About the author

Justin Kirby is a strategist, writer, and speaker, and is a Lecturer on both the BA (Hons) and MA Advertising courses at London College of Communication. Justin has a 20+ year career in industry as a digital strategist, producer and entrepreneur. He’s been writing about the impact of interactive technologies on business and marketing since the early 90s, and his books include ‘Connected Marketing: the viral, buzz and word of mouth revolution (2005) and the Best of Branded Content Marketing’ (BOBCM) series he conceived and has been curating since 2013. Justin also chairs and speaks at conferences around the globe, judges awards, and consults brands and agencies.