The following post was authored by our friend Greg Hemmings of Hemmings House Productions, one of North America’s leading branded filmmakers. Here he shares his thoughts on why corporations and brands are leveraging film as way to connect in the new “empathy economy.”
the power of branded film storytelling: don’t be the story, be the storyteller.
We are experiencing the most culturally disruptive shift in the last half century. In 2016, the Millennial Generation surpassed the combined population of both Gen X and Boomers in the workforce. Though this workforce shift is not uncommon—it happens about every 25 years, in fact—this one is significant in that the new dominant generation are digital natives, born into the age of the Internet. And most have been using social media all their lives. The Internet has brought an entirely new connectivity to this flat world. It has also help to create a population that is more educated about the injustices occurring around the planet. This, in turn, has created a heightened sense of empathy. Members of the Millennial Generation, born into this hyper-connected system, often possesses an intrinsic sense of empathy and desire to make change. Perhaps this generation should be known as the “Empathy Generation.”
The birth of “Millennial Dream Marketing
One of the most significant functions of “Millennial Dream Marketing” is the shift from telling your own stories exclusively, to sharing stories of others in a way that expresses the values of your brand. When a brand tells an important story that isn’t product-centric and that brings relevant value to its stakeholders, an interesting phenomenon happens: an audience builds. While “American Dream Marketing” focuses only on telling potential customers stories about your product, “Millennial Dream Marketing” tells stories that enrich lives, educate, entertain, inspire, and empower audiences.
Forget about the word “customer.” Your audience will buy from you if you continue to demonstrate the core values of your brand, team, and supply chain. People buy from people they know and trust, and brands can tap into this by helping their audience get to know them through storytelling.
Who’s doing this right?
As a social impact filmmaker, I have focused my research on the art of branded film storytelling in the empathy economy. You don’t have to produce films to share your core values, but those who choose to invest in this process have seen some great returns on their investments. A few brands that are using film to express their core values are:
- Patagonia — Patagonia has produced hundreds of great films, mostly about the outdoors and preserving the environment. They have tackled issues such as hydro-dam deconstruction for the preservation of wild salmon (Damnation); they have helped protesters with their fight against a major resort development in a protected wilderness in the Rocky Mountains (Jumbo Wild); and they have challenged the archaic law prohibiting farmers to grow industrial hemp (Harvesting Liberty). The important stories Patagonia tells, with absolutely no product placement, clearly demonstrate what the company stands for. These films do more than position Patagonia as thought leaders in sustainability; they also empower audiences to make a change along with them, with clear calls to action. vimeo.com/ondemand/discover/patagonia
- Intel — One of the global issues that Intel and its employees care about is the quality of life for girls around the world. Intel wanted to accelerate the work of a non-profit that is directly addressing this issue. Girl Rising is a team of filmmakers and change-makers who are bringing this issue to the forefront for stakeholders around the world. The film, also called Girl Rising, follows girls from different cultures, painting a unique picture of what it’s like to be a girl in our own country and abroad. When I chatted with the folks at Intel, they remarked how one of the greatest parts of the project was the sense of purpose felt by their employees when the film was released. The conversation was the first of many that demonstrated the clear impact that doing meaningful work¬—like producing a social impact film—has on employee culture, retention, and attraction. www.girlrising.com
- Illy Coffee — The first time I had cup of Illy coffee I was editing our arctic climate change film, Melting Lands, in Turin, Italy. I had never been a coffee drinker, but Illy converted me. Now, many years later, by working with Illy, I’ve learned that they are not only producing some of the finest coffee in the world, they are also doing it in a way that is sustainable and profitable for the farmers, harvesters, and everyone else in their supply chain. In fact, they won the World’s Most Ethical Company award in 2016. After speaking with Illy’s marketing director, Paolo Bonsignore, I learned that they have a personal relationship with every farmer. He told me that over the years they have met so many people with such interesting stories that they wanted to honour them in some way. To do so, they produced a film called A Small Section of the World, which follows an all-women-run coffee mill in Costa Rica. While the film does include a scene where a young girl from the community presents her thesis at a coffee conference in Italy that is sponsored by Illy, that’s the only time there is a brand presence—and the brand is not the focus. This film demonstrates the values of Illy in a very clear way by telling a special story that otherwise would not have been told. www.asmallsectionoftheworld.com
- Wells Fargo — After the 2008 economic collapse, the American banking industry thrust themselves into the center of a story of corruption, deceit, and greed. Many years later we are still experiencing the aftermath of the true collapse of the American Dream. This does not mean, however, that all of the legions of finance and bank industries are corrupt and untrustworthy. Wells Fargo recognized the devastating effects the collapse had on their communities and their stakeholders, especially those from the low-income bracket. They identified that low-income students had a much lower enrolment into higher education—and that by addressing this issue they could help make an impact. They joined filmmaking team Jaye and Adam Fenderson who were producing a film that followed first-generation college students as they worked toward getting into college. Wells Fargo got involved after the film was produced and helped push the film across the country. The filmmakers were able to get the film in front of thousands of students thanks to their partnership. The publicity of the film also inspired the start-up of a new non-profit called Go College!, which helps students navigate the enrollment process. In an age where the banking industry has taking a massive hit in trust, Wells Fargo has taken a step in the right direction to earn it back and contribute to the empathy economy. www.gocollegenow.org
- RedBull — Yes, they are an energy drink, and not the symbol of health and societal uplift, but they sure do make great values-aligned content. RedBull is an absolute leader in the space of branded film storytelling. Their content arm, RedBull Media House and RedBull.tv, has produced and distributed hundreds of exhilarating films that demonstrate their core values of living life to the fullest. Their website says they are on a mission to fascinate—and they do! I wouldn’t put their content at the top of the heap for films that are making significant positive social and environmental impacts, but they do make films that are in perfect alignment with their values. You can watch hundreds of hours of thrilling content at www.redbull.tv and you may, or may not buy a RedBull energy drink because of it. But I get the sense that selling more drinks isn’t the immediate point; rather, they produce content that inspires a more interesting world.
The American Dream marketing engine is losing steam. The tactics and strategies of the old way are being polished, redesigned, and reinstalled into the Millennial Dream marketing engine. Companies who have been able to transparently share their values through the stories they tell are the ones who are leading market segments.
Film is only one form of storytelling. If you are a brand with strong core values, consider storytelling tools like podcasting, blogging, events, keynotes, workshops, webinars, art installations, commentaries, white papers, case studies, and documentary films. Use whatever tools you have access to, and start creating content that gives value to your stakeholders…the empathy economy is waiting for you.