Video Essentials

Branded Content: Finding a Balance Between Art and Commerce

Branded content brings with it an inherent tension between selling too hard and not selling enough. And when you try to make that content snackable, you inevitably run the risk of watering down the primary content by dividing it up and sharing it out over multiple platforms. If you’re a luxury brand like Lincoln,  the stakes—and the potential contradictions—are only heightened.

Vimeo’s Jeff Hurlow, filmmaker Eliot Raush, Hudson Rouge’s Ashley Davidson, and Tumblr’s Danielle Strle.

Vimeo’s Jeff Hurlow, filmmaker Eliot Raush, Hudson Rouge’s Ashley Davidson, and Tumblr’s Danielle Strle.

These were the topics explored Friday at a South by Southwest panel called “Snackability Effect: A New Normal for Film & Branded Content,” sponsored by Hudson Rouge, the New York agency behind interactive digital experiences for Lincoln’s Hello, Again and MKC Dream Ride campaigns. Hudson Rouge explored the value of creating original, artistic branded content and then making it snackable and shareable.

Much of the discussion revolved around the “Get Back” film directed by Eliot Raush (who spoke on the panel) and published on Vimeo. Vimeo head of brand solutions Jeff Hurlow moderated the session, while Danielle Strle, director of culture and trends at Tumblr, also spoke.

Hudson Rouge and Lincoln worked closely with both Vimeo and Tumblr to get the short film—and short cuts from it—out to the widest possible audience. The film, along with the wider “Hello, Again” campaign, had its genesis when Lincoln approached the agency about relaunching with the goal of generating more interest in the carmaker among younger consumers.

“We wanted to bring the brand back to a warm, human, authentic association in people’s minds,” said Hudson Rouge creative director for brand publishing Ashley Davidson. The agency worked with Raush and Vimeo to create a film around the concept of taking a second look at life, at not letting moments pass by without savoring and appreciating them.

For his part, Raush was initially skeptical. “I was in a season in my life where I was just about to enter the commercial space, and people were using language about how many imprints I had because of where I was with so many followers on social media,” he said. “Initially, I was like ‘I’ll never sell out and attach my name to a brand.’

“But then I said, ‘If I’m going to do anything right now, my wife and I are struggling in our relationship, we think it’s because of the technology’,” he continued. “I long to explore this idea. I need help in my own personal life, so if you could finance my therapy, I’m all in. I don’t think this is really a film. It’s an immersive conversation starter. It’s not one narrative that’s trying to sell an idea or a story.”

The “Get Back” film is comprised of vignettes of couples trying to connect with each other, fighting against the distraction of mobile phones and other screens. It features several different settings, and the voiceovers and dialog doesn’t always match the visuals onscreen. In other words, it mimics artistically what most of us experience every day, going between the worlds on our devices and the physical world.

It’s heady and emotionally compelling stuff, and that’s exactly what Hudson Rouge and Lincoln were after, both in this film and in the “Hello, Again” campaign in general.

“We decided we’re going to tell stories that represent this brand on a more human and personal level,” Davidson said. “We’re going to take core brand values that include respect for individuality and art, and we’re going to tell stories about how artists create their art. You don’t just have a one-off piece of content; if you have backstories that create a sense of community between the brand and the snackable content, you’ll get audiences that neither of us had in the first place.”

In addition to posting the “Get Back” film, along with a behind-the-scenes companion on Vimeo, Lincoln and Hudson Rouge shared shorter clips on Tumblr.  While Raush said he typically bristles at the notion of snackable content—“It’s a buzzword, and I hate it,” he joked—he sees value in creating what Davidson called a “web” around the primary content.

Even though Tumblr gets much of its video content in snackable form, Tumblr’s Strle agreed—to a point. “Snackability is a marketing buzzword with negative connotations,” she said. “But when you compare a campaign like this with traditional 15- or 30-second commercials, this is a satisfying snack, while the other stuff is more like a hair in your food.”

Here’s the thing about the “Get Back” film and the other pieces in the “Hello, Again” campaign: They don’t mention Lincoln, or show a Lincoln, at all, until the final seconds. That is, of course, by design.

“You should never be just placing product into a piece of art, you should be integrating it,” Davidson said.

From Strle’s perspective, that’s exactly why the “Hello, Again” campaign works. “You totally know what you’re going to get from a traditional car commercial,” she says. “They all look the same. Here that Lincoln car logo is so much more powerful than it’s ever been to me. The ad is intrusive, a necessary evil to the way TV works, while this is an experience that’s a joy to be a part of. It means a lot when a brand goes all in on make something like this.”

“It’s a delicate road to recovery, and we don’t want to offend audiences by cramming a brand in their face,” Davidson added.


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