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Branded entertainment

Kai-Lu Hsiung, Managing Director of RSA Films, discusses Branded Content: What is it, how do you get it out there, and how much tech should it use?
Storytelling will always help make something memorable. If it’s got a great story, people talk about it, they’ll remember the beginning, the middle, the end. And they’ll watch to the end. Branded content really does cover more things than you probably people might even realise. Whereas when you get into branded entertainment, then I think you are actually talking about narrative and storyline, and things that have got stories woven into them. When the brand and the story sit perfectly together, you don’t even realise maybe that a brand is there.
Simon Cowell. Merry Christmas, Simon. I’m going to wish him Merry Christmas. Sainsbury’s did something called Christmas in a Day. Hello. Merry Christmas. And this really engaged everyone. What else did you get? Barbie graveyard. A Barbie graveyard. A great way of using technology without it being overly techy - I mean, you’d never been able to do this a few years ago. Send a call out message to everyone around Britain, to film their Christmases. So it’s midway through Christmas Day. And we just got a power cut. And we could then upload it, edit it, cut it, look at it. Sleigh bells… And piece together as a full documentary, but from that they could then cut commercials, as well.
And their posters, and in-store things, and they gave away the DVD at the store. So for them it was hugely, hugely successful. It’s just like, when I was a kid it was good fun, but when you’re an adult it’s just a boring day. And I think the brand Sainsbury’s was very quiet in the background, if you like. There’s no branding in it, but they still became known as doing Christmas in a Day. And it’s great when the client is brave like that, cause you can’t see something - there’s no storyboard. It takes a lot of investment and trust from a client to go, OK, let’s dive into this process and see what we can get. So it is different.
And that was also crowd-sourcing which can go very, very wrong. So I think that’s another way of looking at things. So you’ve got the sort of traditional get a screenwriter, get a big director, get a big name, get your Jude Laws, and make a mini-movie. Then you’ve got these sort of more interactive things, which I think clients also really like. I suppose it does really depend on the brand, and the brand understanding, working with the right team. Merry Christmas. Christmas is for everyone, so that’s the brief.
I think it’s when you see when everything’s lined up together in a wonderful cohesive way that the brand is working with the director and the agency, and you can all build together to make something that works.
VR is suddenly the new tech buzz words. Everyone’s desperately trying to be the first people to launch something with VR. Brands come and say, look, we want to use a VR on this. Can you come up with a story that works with it? So the tech is leading the story. You feel like it’s sometimes more of a challenge if the tech is leading it, rather than the basic narrative. Cruelty. Unnecessary violence. We did a marketing campaign for Prometheus. Happy Birthday, David. These online films, they didn’t just appear. For instance, one of them was based around a TED talk as if it was in the future, and they ran it live at the TED event. And then it went online.
We can create cybernetic individuals, who in just a few short years will be completely indistinguishable from us. Everyone hopes, oh, you’ll just put something online and people will watch it. They won’t. They need some help finding these things. And I think, obviously TV still does a huge amount. We know people still sit and just flick the telly on and see what’s on. But for this online and younger market, you have to really be cleverly targeting your audience. I think for young people coming - well filmmakers, creatives, it’s such an exciting time, because the resources are there for you now.
But because the resources are there, I think you therefore have to make sure the story is absolutely nailed, or you have an idea before you just run out and start filming things. And if you do have a tech idea that’s unusual, really try and research it, and see how it’s going to work with the story. Ridley tells this great story. When he was at the the Royal College of Art - he was actually doing graphics - but in his second year he noticed that they had bought a bolex camera, and it sat in the Head Dean’s office in this special glass cabinet, because it was such a sort of rarity.
And he went in to ask if he could use it, and his tutor said, show me the story, tell me what you’re going to film. And then I’ll give you the camera. So Ridley had to go off, write the narrative, came back, showed him it, and then he gave him the camera. And that’s when he made Boy on a Bike, which is his first film. I think that is absolutely- start with the story. Don’t just think, oh, I’ll just go out and film something, and see what comes of it. It won’t fix itself, if you don’t have an idea in the first place.
“All good creative content and communication should tell a story, ads are no different. There’s no point in running around with a camera if you haven’t got a good story. Through advertising we want to engage the audience and draw people into the brand naturally – there’s no better way to do this than through effective storytelling.”
Kai-Lu Hsiung has been working at RSA Films since 1992, and became the Managing Director 13 years ago. Kai went to Brighton Art College and then on to the RCA to study Fine Art. She taught at Harrow Art College for a few years before moving into publishing, helping set up Deadline Magazine with Tom Astor. Advertising then presented itself after cycling past a shoot, and the idea of working in a creative business with many challenges just seemed ‘the right way to go’.
You can watch the full versions of the clips shown here by following the links below.
Two Minute Task
Watch Kai’s interview, and think about the following:
  • Kai talks about Sainsbury’s being “very quiet in the background” of the Christmas in a Day film. Can you think of other examples of content where the brand takes a back seat? Why do you think a brand would choose to be discreet? What benefits are there of this?
  • What do you think some of the potential risks could be in using ‘user generated content’ to create a brand story, and how do you think these are overcome?
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Storytelling in Advertising

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