How Trends in Branded Content are Changing in 2019

In March, USC’s Marshall School of Business held their 11th Annual “Evolution of Entertainment” Conference. With a topic focus of “Driving Dollars Through Diversity”, there were several presentations with top industry executives on the current diversity trends in the entertainment industry. In this case, diversity was inclusive of the basics like skin tone, gender, and sexuality, but it also pulled in broader norms like compassion, audience reach, measurement and distribution. Susan Goldsmith (Senior Partner, Deloitte) stated bluntly, “Change is here”. Meaning, we are no longer in a position to ignore change, it is here and we need to be a part of it. She encouraged us to get involved; to Be Symbolic, Be Explicit and to Go All In. She noted that Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” was a homerun example in all three of these.

Understandably, what comes with change is a movement and within movements, we can start to pinpoint, define and recognize trends. And this “diversity” trend is not immune to brands and how brands interact with film because while we’re still halfway through 2019, we’re already seeing a trend in how brands specifically are getting involved with the change in how films are made, what messages they are sharing, and to whom.

We chatted with Joe Plummer of Wavelength Productions to look specifically at the trends in branded content. Surprisingly, and interestingly enough, the trends Joe is seeing are essentially in alignment with the “Change” of which Ms. Goldsmith spoke.

What trends are you seeing in meaningful storytelling in film projects?

We’re excited about various emerging storytelling trends for this year - positivity, equality, the power of perseverance, and honesty. Over the past year, we’ve seen a movement towards films focused on building a positive future and finding solutions. Although it’s important to showcase the current state of our world, there is something to be said about proposing solutions instead of focusing solely on the issues. I’m also pleased to see a rise in stories of equality which highlight the universal nature of the human experience as opposed to our differences. Two of our titles - SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD and THE INFILTRATORS touch on the theme of empathy and the human experience. The third trend - the power of perseverance - is meaningful because it challenges us to dream big. No matter who you are, you should stand up and fight for what you believe in. Stories such as those depicted in KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE showcase the strength of these accounts in the human narrative. The last trend of honesty (put more frankly: calling people on their s**t) is an important driver of story. Despite being far from politically correct, Roy Cohn was steadfast in saying enough is enough. Stories that aren’t afraid to tell their truth and showcase the often unpopular side of someone are key to helping understand someone’s humanity.

How is Wavelength trying to push the needle on engaging brands with film?

When you think of branded content, most people conjure up an image depicting an ad with a larger story. However, lately we’ve seen a shift in how brands approach this content - becoming centered on the pursuit of authentic stories through the realization that docs are a great way to engage their audience in a meaningful conversation. 

Wavelength is at the forefront of helping to forge these new relationships. Branded content allows filmmakers to get funding for their projects without having to compromise the integrity of their stories while brands can engage their audiences with substance and clarity**. We’re currently working with Pepsi Studios on a documentary about a high school soccer team in Oregon. Over the course of one season, the film tackles issues such as diversity, tolerance, and understanding head on - showing how we must transcend our personal issues to be a part of a larger team.

What inspires you about what you do?

I’m inspired by our ability to tell great f**king stories. At Wavelength, we support narratives that aren’t afraid to showcase the good, the bad, and the ugly. Compelling stories have something to say, and I’m proud to be a part of these unique narratives. Whether it’s a peek into the life of an American legend with WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? or a dive into the seedy backstory of the infamous CHIPPENDALES, our slate is diverse in both setting and story.

At JIVE PR + Digital, we’re excited to get involved with changemakers, with passionate people like Joe who participate in the world we are trying to make today.

**Note: At the conference, another speaker, Sonny Sidhu or PSB Research mentioned something that seems to tie into what Joe said about engaging audiences with substance and clarity. Sonny explained, in relation to digital distribution, the longtail of distribution now involves community; that we are seeing that the longtail will have to curl back on itself and must begin to listen to its community and allow them to add to the conversation.  We can see that by involving the community in the conversation (participating in a trend) that this also provides an opportunity for brands to reach and engage their audiences effectively. 

Jenny Bloom