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How To Decide Whether Or Not To Work With a Production As a Brand

Stacy Jones | June 7, 2022 at 8:30 AM
Stacy Jones

Why Work With A Production? 

I had a producer reach out the other day with a question we get well, pretty much daily. That question: Could their movie get brands to pay enough money to fund the entire film? 

RUN RUN RUN if you ever are asked to do this as a brand. The answer is a resounding NO. Partnering with brands and featuring them in projects can yield cost-saving production benefits, amongst others. But before looking into these types of opportunities, productions should evaluate their project and determine whether or not they offer something that the brands feel is worth riding along for. In this blog, Hollywood Branded shares how to best determine whether or not your brand could benefit from partnering with a film. 


How To Decide Whether Or Not To Work With a Production As a Brand


The Importance Of Being Funded

The long and the short of it – no. Don't fund a project as a brand. Easy word to say. Harder to understand perhaps why I am so passionate about this little 2-word response. Series and films should not (typically) be funded by a brand unless the brand is actually backing the production as a branded content piece – with a strategy to use it as a PR vehicle and to submit it for various awards.

The branded documentaries a lot of brands are doing right now are FABULOUS - and if you ever want to explore that, we are ready to strategize the right plan - and production team - to bring to the table.

Now, that does not mean a brand should not do product placement or paid integration. There is a difference here in the words I am using. FUNDED. As in, the films only get made if there are brands on board to pay. That’s a disaster – and a heartbreak - waiting to happen. The cold hard reality is, that it’s unlikely the production will ever see the light of day.

Movie funding brand funding

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This Is How I Know It's A Good Project

Brands should take note of what I’m saying here. It will save you a lot of pondering on what to do when you are approached with an open hand asking for funding.

For our clients, we do this step for you. But if you aren’t working with our agency, then you do need to be able to know how to vet whether production is going to be a good opportunity – or not. After having worked on literally tens of thousands of productions over the last 26 years, I can sniff out a stinker in 2 seconds flat.

For me, it’s easy. I eyeball the film's budget, the cast, and how prepared they are overall. From there I can dive into the storyline and potential distribution model. The script or story outline is the final clincher. By this point in life I can tell you what production is likely to be a success, and why.

I sometimes get REALLY excited about little indie films, or off-the-wall comedies, because I see that magic spark or unique opportunity they bring to a brand partner.  It's not that a project HAS to be a blockbuster. Plenty of projects are home run wins for brands and are smaller in size. 

If I ever leave this brand partnerships biz, I’ll start looking for a development job where I can put all these years of reading script after script and reviewing content to good use. I have a unique eye, as do the rest of our team because we monitor projects to determine if they are going to be commercially successful. As that is the golden ticket for our clients.

What Makes a Production Good? Good script, good cast, distribution 


Let There Be Icing On The Cake!

I typically tell producers that brand dollars should be the icing on the cake – not be the cake itself. Brand deals sweeten the project, they don’t fund the film or series. You want to hear that the production is going to use the brand dollars to help amp up special effects, get better music licensing… bring more marketing awareness to the project...  even help secure better casting. Those are the things brand integration dollars typically help offset.

Check out the 6 self-checks I typically run through on a project I am reviewing below. 

1. Does It Have A Relatable Message?

The movie or series needs to target the brand’s desired core audience. A storyline that brands can embrace is important.  The brand is hoping for the consumer to buy into their product as they are buying into the ethos of the entertainment through which it is being exposed through.  Does the story’s message match that of the brand’s marketing tactics?  Does it have a positive message that the brand wishes for that very consumer to see in their own product?  Even projects with themes of horror, blood, and gore, though they may not appear to be enticing to most brands, may be welcomed by a few.

2. Does It Target An Audience That Brands Would Be Interested In Being In Front Of?

When production is seeking funds of any kind from brands, they need to at the very least have a recognizable cast and main lead. Ideally, an A-list star. If not A-list, then someone who is going to be recognized by someone in their 40s or 50s, as those are the individuals at the brand management level you need to get excited about the project.  That is as I said, the minimum.  Different types of projects appeal to specific crowds.  Family-targeted brands will have an interest in films that bring the family to the theaters, while brands that target teens will perhaps look to horror films or dark TV shows, which tend to draw viewers ages 18-25.

3. Does It Have Known And Recognizable Talent? 

A brand marketer isn’t going to sign on to a feature film if they don’t recognize the cast.  In order to get maximum exposure, a project carrying a big name is going to be much more alluring to brands.

Think of what else you can offer the brand that provides the brand with content in your film or show and beyond.

4. Does It Have Distribution?

The project needs to have a distributor, or at least a dang good plan on getting one. Don’t put your nose up at an indie project that doesn’t have a distributor yet, however. If the cast is decent, it will absolutely get picked up. There are enough streaming on-demand platforms hungry for content that everything seems to find a home if it is more than decent.

While this can be a hard one to be able to share prior to shooting, there are ways you can help explain how your production will be distributed.  Brands are traditionally looking for some guarantee of impressions for providing you not only with fee-paid integrations but also for a product that is loaned or gifted to the production. No one wants to send a product out that has a hard cost, invest their brand's time in the logistics of getting that product out, to only find out that no one will ever even see the property. Productions have to find a way to paint a picture of potential distribution channels, or they will not get a brand onboard with one exception. That exception? If there is A-list caliber talent involved in the project.  Without distribution AND without a very well-known lead in the cast, your project has very low hope of attracting any interest from brands.

5. Is It Any Good?

Beauty is often in the eye of the beholder, but for a film, your brand may be sinking money into – you want a lot of people to believe the vehicle you are investing your marketing dollars in is worthy of being watched. You also need a storyline that works and makes sense to be the canvas to showcase the brand.

6. Is It Funded?

You also need the project to be fully funded.  Which goes against the notion that you can use brands to raise funds. Very few brands want to be in the business of making movies. They want movies to help market their brand, and they want assurances that the production has enough money to shoot and be successful. The production needs enough funding to make the movie. That means they need MILLIONS of dollars. If you are told it is hundreds of thousands of dollars? Run. It’s like a student film at that point. Or embrace it if it is going to be content that is going to be available to repurpose for digital, or run on a digital platform. But know what you are getting into. There is no A-list film out there that is shooting on a budget under a few million anymore. Most of your rom coms have budgets around $15M+. Horror is the only genre that typically dips into the low millions.

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Creative Ideas And Resources Pay Off

Even a project that lacks one of the major elements can still be a successful project when creative ideas and resources are utilized.  Think of social media call-outs during production, exclusive behind-the-scenes footage available for brands to stream on their YouTube channel, meet and greets with their executives and the cast, and premiere party sponsorships that would lend opportunities for PR.

The possibilities are endless.  Keep your mind open, be willing to strategize, and you will be much more likely to find a way to make a partnership mutually beneficial and worthy of everyone’s time.

These are all important variables in reviewing a production to see if it is a fit. Even if you are just being asked to give 'free stuff.' There is always a hard cost to that 'free' - including shipping, and your precious time that there is never enough of.


Eager To Learn More?

Dipping your toes into the ever-changing world of entertainment marketing can feel overwhelming, but we're here to help. As an entertainment marketing agency, there is no shortage of educational materials on our site. Be sure to check out some of the blogs below for some insight on the industry!

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Topics: Marketing Best Practices, For Brand Marketers, Basics, Film/Movies, Marketing

Stacy Jones

Written by Stacy Jones

Stacy, our agency’s founder, has over twenty years of leadership experience building global entertainment branding campaigns for top Fortune 500 companies and hundreds of brands. Her career started after receiving her BFA in Theater Production & Scenic Design from the University of Arizona. Acknowledged as an expert in the field, she has appeared on CNN and MSNBC; spoken at conferences around the globe from Germany to Beijing; and has been featured in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, Financial Times, The Economist, Brandweek, Advertising Age, Variety, B&C and Mediaweek amongst others. Originally from Texas, you will still hear her ya’ll as she gathers the team for strategy planning sessions. Like all true entrepreneurs, Stacy is an adventurer at her core – having sky dived, hang glided off bi-planes, swam with crocs while rafting the Zambezi in Africa, photographed grizzly bears in Alaska, trekked Mayan ruins in Belize, explored the ocean as an avid scuba diver, and who loves owning an advertising agency where she swims with a different type of Hollywood shark on a daily basis.