TUESDAY 9 JUN 2020 1:28 PM


Sam St. John, head of operations at Paragon Pictures, speaks to Communicate magazine about the ins and outs of branded video content, including how companies can make sure it resonates with a more diverse audience and how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed it.

What is the key element to consider when creating effective branded content for businesses?

First of all, we need to make sure the content we’re creating can truly be considered as branded content. Branded content is different from most other advertising. It’s advertising without the hard sell. This might seem like the opposite of what marketing stands for but true branded content should never be pushing a product or service too hard. It’s created to support the brand message and link to their customers in an authentic way.

This is often wrapped up in a short documentary or narrative video piece. It’s all about expressing the values of the brand in the most honest way possible and allowing them to make a connection with their audience. What we look for are genuine stories that will draw in the viewer. We want to take the customer on a journey and to engage emotionally with the subject matter. In the end, you want your branded content to create an organic conversation around the brand and what it represents. 

The ultimate goal is to turn your customers into fans and your fans into customers, creating a loyal following for your unique offering. Think of how global brands like Red Bull or Apple have created a whole culture around their products, with a universe of content that their fan base can come back to again and again.

How can companies make sure their content resonates with a wider and more diverse target audience?

The best content is universal. It speaks in a language that we all understand and talks to us in one clear voice. Again, it’s about emotion and honesty. Really, what we want to do is make videos that people care about. To do that we need to create meaningful images and stories that will spark intrigue in an audience.

One way of tapping into a much wider audience is to be inherently human in your approach. The adverts that really grab people on a large scale are often in tune with the world as it stands. Most of the advertising that was big in the 80s and 90s wouldn’t cut it today. Keeping in touch with the sentiments and thoughts of the modern world will help you deliver messages that speak to the greatest number of people. 

The ability to speak to one person at time yet on a massive scale is important. We want our brand work to connect with individuals but to replicate this one on one experience for a mass audience. This way you can touch people on a personal level whilst still generating the sort of mass communal appeal that every campaign dreams of.

How has Covid-19 changed branded content? How is Paragon Pictures planning to work with this change?

It’s already had a big impact on the content we’re seeing everyday. There was a big movement in the early days for advertisers to get out a “we’re in it together” messaging and that’s stayed in place. It’s really great to see a unified front on such a big social issue and it’s helped to show a more human side to often faceless brands. The time has come for fresh perspectives and finding greater opportunities to touch people's lives. The chance for bolder and braver advertising is right now. We’re always looking for new and interesting creative angles. Even with such a polarising subject matter, we want to find a way to keep talking to our audience in new and interesting ways.

There is a greater focus on how we are all contributing going into an uncertain future. Brands can be at the forefront of these new ways of doing business. That might mean telling their brand story in a more sensitive tone of voice or looking to use their position to give back to the community. Think of how our own day to day conversations have changed, the way our branded content communicates will go through it’s own change. It’s all about positive change for the better.

As far as, the nuts and bolts of production goes that has become a more complicated affair. We want to get back to work as soon as possible but of course the health and wellbeing of the people we work with is paramount. There has been guidance released to help us along but in a business where human contact is essential, it’s going to be tough to run a shoot for a while. We might lose some of the buzz that usually goes along with filming content. Thankfully, testing is becoming more widely available and we’ll make sure it’s at the top of our production list. Making content is all about problem solving, so we’ll find a way that’s safe and that works.

What is the greatest challenge corporate content faces right now?

Times are hard for corporate film. It’s a term that has been used over the last decade as a byword for sub-standard filmmaking. We’re talking cheap and quick videography thrown together at the last minute. It really doesn’t need to be that way. In fact, we’re big champions of doing great corporate work that can elevate brand communication. The label ‘corporate’ can often give the wrong impression when this area has lots of dynamic work that needs more recognition than it gets.

The one thing we look for when putting together corporate content is getting the right access for the projects we work on. When creating corporate video, the story of the business is best told by those who embody the brand’s values. That means having genuine voices from the people that make up the business as a whole. Obviously the working landscape has shifted since January and we’re not sure how it will all pan out. One thing we are sure of, is the need for internal video, brand messaging and corporate content to be more creative and engaging than ever.

What impact will advanced technology like AI and VR have on video content making?

The introduction of AI and VR into commercial filmmaking is one we’re very excited about. There are some interesting developments in customer interaction such as augmented reality, hotspot and choice driven videos that will give brands new ways to immerse customers in their brand. The appearance of content with ‘in-video’ purchasing options is something we see becoming the next big ‘everyday’ development. It’s only a matter of time before you can check out the spec of James Bond’s Omega timepiece, buy it and have it delivered to your door without missing a beat of action.

One area we have been exploring is developing our ‘virtual production’ options. The whole premise is to combine technology and VFX techniques to create video remotely. Now more than ever we’re facing difficult problems in production and finding digital solutions is essential. We’re already using previsualisation methods to plan and execute our shoots as well as real time compositing (a way to show how the final image looks live on set).