Blog : Branded content

Content, Distribution and the Chuckle Brothers

Content, Distribution and the Chuckle Brothers

I have read the headline ‘Content is King’ many times since lockdown and I roll my eyes every time I see it. It is such a cheap, throwaway statement. Essentially, it’s only driven by the notion that right now, people have no option but to sit at home and watch it, because they have nothing better to do whilst on lockdown. A captive audience (not in the good way).

Content is like a good joke. You probably remember 1 out of a 1000. Anyone can make a respectable piece of content that has the core elements to make it digestible. But using my lockdown weight gain as a source for inspiration, who wants a dull, digestible and waistline diminishing rice cake, when you can have an enjoyable, indulgent ‘I need my fat trousers’, memorable, doughnut.

Content can appear in your social feed like getting unwanted attention from a stranger on the bus, peering over your shoulder and commenting on what you’re reading. You don’t welcome the intrusion and the contents of such an intrusion is usually arbitrary and irrelevant. So how do doughnuts and creepy people on the bus shape our thoughts on content?

For the past two years we’ve been developing a feature length documentary that started life as a pitch concept. The film is called David vs Goliath and is currently on Amazon Prime (soon to be appearing on iTunes, Google Play and others.) In the first month it was trending in the most popular movies in the UK and sustained in the top 10 documentaries for three weeks. It was brand funded. The premise of the story was: we take David Haye (David) a man who had never played a hand of poker in his life and challenge him to take on Grosvenor Casinos’ ‘Goliath’ (the biggest poker tournament outside of Vegas) and we follow his journey over 18 months, in a fly on the wall documentary. That was it. Simple.

David vs Goliath Film Poster

We protected the story and the narrative arc of the documentary like a drunken 20 year old would protect their kebab, staggering home at the end of the night. We knew that the brand would not only flourish when not forced in to the conversation, but facilitate the story and be seen by customers as a means to potentially facilitate both a perception change in their view of poker, but also the environment in which it’s played.

We live in an era where we obsess over short form content, with limited attention spans, with draconian social media platform restrictions with which we wrestle vociferously to shoehorn in key messages, etc. But there is an exciting opportunity in long form story telling. The art is finding the story, the author, the principal characters, the book and shop in which you’re going to sell it (if you follow the analogy) – but most importantly an interesting reason for existing in the first place. A lack of focus on any one part and you’ll never make it on to Richard and Judy’s illustrious book club. In the case of David vs Goliath, distribution was critical. In the case of long form content, the right distributor holds the key to unlock access to platforms to reach your consumers and create a subsequent, desired behaviour change among them.

Grosvenor Casinos, who were the client for this project, understood (here comes another analogy) that if they didn’t come across as the desperate tinder date, obsessively texting, sending selfies, and talking about themselves, but appeared as discreet, intelligent and discerning in their presence, then they would be lucky in love. Not endlessly waving their brand in the face of would be suitors (no associated analogy please note) was the way to earn respect, credibility and meaningful engagement.

If you’re a client, don’t be intoxicated by your own brand and its story. Listen to objectivity and the challenge of your agency consultants to help shape and craft your story for consumers. If you’re an agency, don’t kid your clients or waste their money on puff content that the you ‘at home in your pyjamas, eating your indulgent doughnuts’ wouldn’t give a moment’s attention. Obsess over the craft of the story.

Finally, think about distribution. Think about your content, short form or long form. Think about the journey and the emotional connection you are attempting to make and the natural role the brand can play in that equation. If a natural role does not exist, start again.

So Content isn’t King. A final analogy to leave you with. Content is ‘Barry’ to Distribution’s ‘Paul’ Chuckle. And we all know with only one chuckle brother forming the all important partnership, all you’re left with is a sad ‘to me…’

To the Wildlands and back

To the Wildlands and back

“Let’s make a feature length documentary on the war on drugs and release it alongside the launch of the video game.” When I sit on my sofa with my laptop and write that it sounds easy.

A couple of points to note. We had never made a feature length documentary film. We knew nothing about film distribution. We had a great idea but no idea on how to translate that into something you could sit and watch on a Saturday night.

This week, Wildlands premiers on iTunes and Amazon Prime, followed by GooglePlay, and following an international film premiere at BAFTA. It’s still hard to believe we dared to achieve that.

The term branded entertainment content covers a multitude of sins. Some examples in our industry barely doing those three words justice, some genuinely making a step towards how brands can create meaningful connections to their consumer.

Ubisoft – one of our founding clients in London and one for whom has defined for me, a collaborative partnership, visionary marketeers and a true desire to innovate in a dynamic and fiercely competitive category – tasked us to launch Ghost Recon Wildlands, a video game exploring a fictional narrative of Bolivia in the grips of a drug war and on the cusp of becoming a narco state.

From this brief, we recognised the opportunity to harness global interest in a morbidly entertaining subject matter and create a companion documentary to enable real life comparisons with a fictional video game world, realised from the stories of those who shaped it in Wildlands, the documentary.

The journey to make Wildlands was like going horse riding for the first time and they hand you Desert Orchid. It bolts off at 100 miles an hour and you hope you have the courage, desire, concentration and instincts to finish the race. It turned out we won the race. Wildlands won a D&AD pencil at this years’ awards, followed by a Silver Award at the Clio awards for Branded Content. We hope many more will follow.

We travelled to the slums of Medellin, the coca fields of Bolivia, and small-town America to discover the stories of those who have shaped the war on drugs from both sides of the law. Our real-life characters mirrored to and characterised in a video game. We created branded entertainment content to accompany, celebrate and elevate our clients’ entertainment product – what we achieved was genuinely innovative and won critical acclaim from a notoriously cynical industry.

We hope you enjoy the film (and buy the game).