Branded film must appeal to audiences’ social motivations, says content & digital director at FRUKT Communications, James Poletti.

Among the many painful headlines that rang out in October, the cuts faced by the UK’s beleaguered film industry were perhaps those that hit home hardest for the culture sector; funding outside of the Lottery and the BFI was cut in half. At the same time, Tesco announced the launch of a film production arm in a deal with Amber Entertainment that will see them create largely straight-to-DVD films of novels by best-selling writers like Jackie Cooper to then be sold exclusively through Tesco stores.

Between these two poles, it looks certain that brands and film have an increasingly connected future and it was due to this that FRUKT Communications conducted research to understand how audiences feel about brands playing a role in funding film and what they want to see from the results.

We might jump to the conclusion that what brands can offer to film in the UK is funding for quintessentially British cinema like Shane Meadows’ Somers Town, bank-rolled by Eurostar, but there’s a strong argument to suggest that the kitchen sink tradition will thrive in a restrictive funding environment. Our research found that it is bold, daring and innovative initiatives that consumers want to see from brands in the film and television space; investing in creative pyrotechnics, in short. It’s also clear that respondents are looking for brands to play an informative role, offering consumers cultural capital through entertainment platforms, content, events and experiences.

The reluctance of brands to take an authoritative role in creative film commissions and filmmakers’ suspicion of brand motives has led to some high profile examples of brands commissioning work in which filmmakers are offered total creative freedom. Take the Spike Jonze-directed 30-minute robot love story, I’m Here, commissioned by Absolut as a kind of logical conclusion to their long-standing commitment to creativity. Without even the tangential brand association of Somers Town, Absolut puts its faith in great content delivering the effect of communications media and in organic distribution creating new and powerful channels to reach audiences (and, of course, in the creative reputation of Spike Jonze).

In most cases, we can see a disconnection between a traditional film model in which existing distribution networks allow content created by production companies to be disseminated through paid promotional channels, and a new model in which brands are making an incursion into the creative process and commissioning creative projects that might otherwise never see the light of day. In the latter, effectiveness for brands is not yet crystal clear but the principle of creating something that has value within a human social network, whether this is an original film short or a platform for new young filmmakers, is clearly aligned to our audience’s urge for both innovation and cultural capital. If brand content is to find natural distribution networks, it will have to address its audience’s social motivations: the quest for social status, collective cultural experiences and identity.