A couple of weeks ago I took an online class offered by the Center for Documentary Studies on branded docs. Before starting the course I thought I knew what branded documentaries were. I had no idea.
It is easiest to explain what branded docs are by talking about what branded documentaries are not. They are not ads designed to directly sell products. They are not the same as product placement. Branded docs are short documentaries funded by a product or organization about a subject matter that aligns with a business' values, mission, or goals. They might tell the back story or history of an organization, like the IBM Centennial Film, They Were There- People Who Changed the Way the World Works, directed by Academy Award winner, Errol Morris.
But the ones that are attracting the most attention right now, are not as directly related to a business or product. Instead, they build credibility and pique the interest of potential customers through association. Branded docs might present a portrait of an artist or althele, or document a way of life or subculture, or call attention to a social or environmental cause.
Up There, a 12 minute branded doc that was commissioned by Stella Artois, documents the dying art of sign painting in New York City. It just happens that the sign these craftsman are painting is of a Stella Artois beer. It's a brilliant move. In a market abuzz with alternative craft brews, Stella Artois could seem too corporate. But the film links the brand's values of heritage, craftsmanship and tradition with the tradition of hand-sign painting itself- one that requires apprenticeship and is worth preserving.
The outdoor clothing design firm Patagonia goes one step further, having sponsored four branded docs in the past two years that champion environmental causes. They even produced a full length documentary, Damn Nation, that premiered at the South by Southwest film festival. It is easy to imagine that Patagonia's customers who buy outdoor clothing would have an interest in environmental stewardship, which is one of Patagonia's core values.
In an increasingly saturated media market, it has become more difficult to keep people engaged with content. Branded docs are one way to build positive relationships with likely customers, and keep them on your page.