This interview with JWT‘s Head of Content & Entertainment Mike Wiese was originally published in the 2015 BOBCM Special D&AD Edition. It was one of 3 interviews where Jurors from the D&AD’s 2015 Branded Film Content & Entertainment category provided pointers about what they look for in branded content, how they decide what’s good enough to be a D&AD Pencil winner, the challenges they face and what they’d like to see in future work.
How would you define branded content?
Branded content is anything made by a brand that entertains, inspires or informs. It’s the bits and bytes a brand publishes for any screen or stage – from feature-length theatrical movies to 140-character social media posts. Branded content is the stories and experiences developed and produced by brands, to make an emotional connection with a consumer, transforming them into a follower or fan.
What were you looking for from Pencil-winning branded content?
We used the word ‘iconic’ to set the bar. To be the best, it had to be iconic and that meant being work we’d be discussing in 10 years time, or content people outside the industry would know and love. Think BMW Films, Red Bull ‘Stratos’, or The LEGO Movie. It had to be content that could cross over to mainstream audiences, as real content not case studies. The content also had to have great craftsmanship. For me, story and character is most important. I’ll forgive lesser production values or limited distribution, since they are often dictated by budgets which not every project has. But to create a memorable character within a story we want to share is the reason we should all aspire to make branded content.
What are the challenges in judging branded content?
What’s great about award show juries is the varied backgrounds of the jurors, while all having a unique expertise to share within the room. But that is also the challenge with judging branded content and entertainment. Everyone has a different point of view and agenda as to what they are looking for. Is it about the brand idea? The brand’s impact on pop culture? An innovative business model? Or work that is on par with Hollywood producers? Of course, it needs to work for a brand objective. Another challenge is work being evaluated as case studies and not the content seen by actual viewers. Sometimes it feels like a case study film festival.
What makes something stand out from the crowd?
The standout work is no different than anything else that stands out in pop culture – it creates an emotional connection that makes the viewer want to share it. We share what we love – it could be a film, or a song, or even a great meal. Great content, regardless if selling soap or cola, will transform the viewer or end-user into a fan and provide a valuable experience we need to tell people about. No different than Disney or any other movie studio selling us a Friday night at the movie theatre.
What pointers or advice would you give to people creating branded content?
It all starts with making something people want to spend time with, and making it as entertaining or useful as possible. I’d focus less on the campaign brief and develop a content brief. Think less like a marketer and more like a studio, network, or promoter. How and why will people watch? Also, too many brands avoid real tension in their storytelling. Find something that will make the client a little uncomfortable. That is likely what will make the content great, and something the audience wants to see.
What was missing from the entries in 2015?
Advertising is a business of trends, and that can manifest into clichés with content. We saw too many copies of social experiments, like Dove ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ or Always ‘Like A Girl’, to the point it could be its own category. Too many so-called documentaries that are really manifesto films with a voiceover. I’d like to see more scripted series, and more use of multi-platform storytelling, using platforms like Snapchat and Instagram video with traditional channels. The more narrative structure, less brand exposition the better.