Young people want to support brands that do good. In fact, millennials are so highly selective when choosing which brands to support, more than 9-in-10 millennials will switch brands to one associated with a good cause.
As a result, cause marketing has grown from an industry of $120M in 1990 to $2B in 2017.
Many brands are trying to reach socially responsible young people, with mixed results. Young audiences are much more media savvy than older generations and they are very skeptical about traditional marketing. The first generations to grow up in the digital age, young viewers are quick to denounce cheap attempts by brands to jump on the social good bandwagon.
Brands must have an authentic connection to social and environmental issues. If a brand wants to be a climate change activist, then the brand must have a solid sustainability record. If a brand is producing a project around the HIV/AIDS crisis, then the brand needs to have a longstanding HIV/AIDS initiative.
Although this seems obvious, far too many brands miss the mark.
Authentic, Sponsored Entertainment
The current advertising model does not work.
Many brands produce short-form branded content projects, which are just long TV commercials. Brands then spend substantial amounts of money on a media buy to support these long ads. Success is measured by likes and shares, but that is not true success. The likes and shares have been bought. It’s the equivalent of a movie studio buying tickets to its own bad movie release and then claiming it to be a box office success.
An effective way for brands to reach young people with socially responsible messages is to partner with iconic, authentic filmmakers. Iconic directors are a smart choice because consumers want to watch their films. This is how the film, television, and streaming entertainment worlds work—everyone partners with the best possible filmmakers who have the best possible track record.
A socially responsible, brand-sponsored documentary has the potential to make a much greater impact than a long ad (branded content). Authentic documentaries directed by credible filmmakers connect with mainstream audiences because their work is relevant and topical. 73% of Netflix subscribers (roughly 68M people) tuned in to at least one documentary last year. This is especially notable because the largest share of streaming subscribers for Netflix is among broadband households younger than 35.
Authentic, brand-sponsored docs can launch at major film festivals, like Sundance. If the brand-sponsored project is good, it can sell to a major film and television distributor, allowing brands to recoup some production costs. Once sold, the distributor spends their own money to promote the project, bringing it to theaters and major streaming platforms like Netflix.
Significantly, this saves brands money because there is no media buy. As we all know, the vast majority of money spent in marketing is spent on media to support a brand’s message. Sponsored entertainment does not require a media buy, because the objective of sponsored entertainment is to make something that people want to watch.
When brands make the right creative choices, the payoff can be huge. Here’s an example:
Directed by legendary filmmaker, Werner Herzog, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World explores the unstoppable digital revolution that is transforming the world. Through this brand-sponsored film NetScout, a data solutions company, engaged a global audience with a piece of entertainment that matches their brand story. As a direct result of the doc, NetScout’s annual impressions increased tenfold (to 25B) and the brand received the most new business inquiries in its 30-year history.
Another example is From One Second to the Next:
The brand-sponsored documentary for AT&T is now being distributed in over 40,000 schools and education programs.
One more time: no one wants to be targeted by traditional ads or long ads dressed up as branded content.
Instead of interrupting audiences with a brand message, brands can create the entertainment itself and build their own brand story. When brands choose to do this, they can engage mainstream audiences with brand-sponsored, cause-related messages that audiences will go out of their way to watch. These entertainment projects then create opportunities for brands to become authentic brand activists for social and environmental causes.
Rupert Maconick is the Executive Producer and Founder of Saville Productions. Saville has a long track record of producing content with some of the most widely acclaimed, prominent award-winning documentary and feature filmmakers. Most recently, he produced ”Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World,” a Werner Herzog feature documentary that premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. The film won the 2017 AICP NEXT Award for Branded Content, the 2017 Grand Clio, 2 Cannes Gold Lions and a Silver Cannes Entertainment Lion.