Big Brands Using Branded Documentaries to Stand Out From the Crowd

Coldwell Banker Agent Vignette – Ricardo Rodriguez

Telling personal stories through an intimate medium can captivate audiences searching for authenticity.  To that end, many big brands have begun to create branded documentaries: true stories of people’s lives.

These honest reflections are a radical, refreshing departure from banal advertisements, thus making them attractive and even addictive to consumers.

Why branded documentaries work

There are common threads in branded documentaries with regards to what they deliver and why they work well to grab your audience’s attention.  These are great takeaways for brand marketers:

Brand value.  Each company aims to share its brand message with consumers.  The goal of any marketing content is getting the target audience to connect with what the brand does, and why they do it.  Branded documentaries broach this message with an untraditional approach to achieve a connection that intrigues an audience in a way that’s different from traditional advertisements.

Grab them and keep them.  Today’s consumers have so many things vying for their attention.  When there’s a lot of competition out there, you’ve got to draw viewers in.  Branded documentaries hook viewers immediately with a good story that emotionally connects with them and keeps them watching.

Relatability.  A brand can capture a great story, but if it isn’t relevant to your target audience, it will go unnoticed.  A great branded documentary not only relays the values of your company, but also something your target audience cares about because it relates to their interest.

Emotion.  As Maya Angelou said, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  A great film creates emotions. That feeling establishes a connection and helps build trust with your audience. The emotional connection is an integral part of the untraditional approach.

Expectation.  Your brand’s messaging shouldn’t be overwhelming.  A great brand documentary teases enough that it piques interest, but leaves the audience wanting more.

Examples of excellence

You don’t have to look far to see some of the best examples out there.  You’ve likely watched them already (and probably more than once):

Vans.  This shoe company is associated with Southern California skateboard culture.  It states that the “Off The Wall” tagline is also “a rallying cry for self-expression.”  Their 2001 brand documentary series chronicles the lives of skaters, which, one skater notes, is a “lifestyle that is something bigger than us.”  The camera follows these sometimes heavily tattooed and pierced men and women into their workplace, neighborhoods, homes, and hangouts. The series uses emotional stories and visuals to connect the consumer with these diverse individuals.  This impacts the viewer, making them realize, as another subject says, “being different doesn’t mean you’re bad.” The takeaway: Vans’ customers are different and different is good.

In contrast, traditional advertisements and commercials by the company merely showcase the shoes.  It is hard to connect emotionally with a product when there is no brand message imparted.

Church’s Chicken.  Think fried chicken and you likely think drumstick.  Church’s Chicken capitalized on this association by teaming with the World’s Fastest Drummer event in 2015. This campaign is a refreshing approach that grabs the attention of the viewer instead of traditional, more mundane ads that just present a hard sell for delicious chicken and sides. Eight episodes in the video campaign explore the lives of individual competitors vying to see who can play the most single drum strokes in 60 seconds.  Filled with motivational music and emotional childhood stories, the videos are as engaging as those you’d see about world-class athletes during the Olympics.

Patagonia.  This outdoor gear and apparel company knows their customers are rugged, resourceful and take clothing purchases seriously.  The company’s “Well Worn” brand documentary campaign focuses on the brand’s message of quality, sustainability and love for the outdoors.  Featured stories showcase customers, their passions and how attached they’ve become to cherished pieces of clothing such as hats, board shorts and jackets.  The lengths customers go to repair and keep these items is conveyed through emotional adventure stories, stunning landscape footage and an emotive musical score.  The thing that sets this campaign apart from traditional advertising is the relatable emotions we all have for our favorite piece of clothing. The video campaign still presents their product and how well it holds up over the years, but these documentaries tug at the viewer like traditional ads cannot.  Suddenly, you’re thinking about your own clothing and the adventures you’ve had. Additionally, if you miss your favorite shirt or jacket made by another company, you may wonder if you would still have it if it had been a Patagonia product.

Creating branded documentaries

Once you recognize that a branded documentary can be a great addition to your overall video marketing plan, here are some things to consider.

  1. Decide on the story you want to tell to best showcase your brand, company philanthropy or core values.
  2. Decide on the tone of your story and whether or not it will resonate with your target audience.  Tap into at least one of six core emotions: happy, sad, angry, afraid, surprised or disgusted. Consider everything in the range from funny to serious.
  3. Know what you want to say and how you want to say it.  Remember, with a documentary, authenticity is paramount.  Be careful not to let the brand’s biases or overt messaging seep in.  When this happens, the film can come across as being too promotional or look like advertising.

Producing effective branded documentaries is not a simple task.  There are many choices to make, such as working with a production company who’s directors are accomplished storytellers and know how to capture the emotional tone of the story during every phase of the production process – scriptwriting, production & post-production.  If you can consolidate all of these processes in one place, your success rate rises due to consistency of vision throughout the process.

Keep in mind that the best documentaries have great storytelling at their core, in addition to high-quality audio and visuals that attract and keep the viewer engaged.  If this is not your specialty, consider bringing in professionals who are experts at bringing stories to the screen.

Get ready to stand out

Whether you’re looking for ways to attract the attention of potential new customers or want to reach existing customers in ways that excite and engage, branded documentaries are excellent for conveying your message and brand values.  Use the successful examples above and think about the many stories you can tell. And integrate your brand’s values with your story in an emotional way to deliver a message that resonates with your customers.

At REP Interactive, we understand the power of branded video and know that its role in marketing is here to stay.  Check out some of the branded documentaries we’ve created and contact us today if you would like us to talk to us about your ideas for a branded documentary.

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