Why Brands Could Benefit from Blurring Broadcast and Branded Entertainment
Jeremy Groman has been ECD at Firecracker for over 14 years, helping shape its distinctive style with TV series such as Daredevils and Big Fat Gypsy Weddings and producing authentic branded entertainment films for the likes of Nike, Vodafone, Johnnie Walker and Durex.
With his unique broadcasting perspective, he shares his thoughts on what the commercial world could learn from longform documentaries.
Q > You started your career in graphic design. How did you come to found a TV and Branded Entertainment production company?
I came out of art school with Photoshop version 1.0 under my belt and got a job in a “new media” company. I moved from graphic design to motion graphics and video. I set up an in-house production and post facility and started to direct all our branded videos or “content”.
Soon after, I teamed up with an old art school friend and documentary filmmaker, Mark Soldinger and Firecracker opened in 2002. Right from the start we were making both TV programs and films for brands, the approach to one (a passion for unearthing the most remarkable, entertaining, human stories) directly influencing the other.
Q > Firecracker operates in the worlds of both Broadcast and Branded Entertainment. What do you think brands could learn from TV?
A different way of perceiving consumers. Many brands express the ambition to “shape culture”. Few will unless they start to look at their audience as real people away from the data. They need to understand their relationship with entertainment: their willingness to carry shows like flags, form fan communities, spread the word - obsess.
Another big difference is that broadcasters aren’t afraid of the truth. They understand that people have an insatiable appetite for the rawer aspects of real life: we are nosy, we are prurient, we like to gossip! That‘s the reason Keeping Up With The Kardashians is the monster hit that it is. Broadcasters don’t speak only to our better selves.
In Marketing, there is a tendency to ‘whitewash’ audiences, to idealize us and ignore the characteristics that make us human. That’s a shame. Sadness, for example, can create tremendous empathy. Think of There was a human truth there, wasn’t there? It didn’t make OXO a ‘sad’ brand. Why aren’t there more ads like that?
Q > What are your views on the way branded entertainment is briefed? Do you think the model needs to change?
Currently, a lot of content follows the same linear development process as advertising: it starts with a planner’s brief, it’s solved in the creative department and signed off by the client. Then the production company is brought in. TV is much more collaborative. The best outcomes have been when the agency has plugged our in-house development team into the process. This helps ‘bake in’ the entertainment bit right from the start.
Q > How beneficial is it having casting producers who normally work on documentaries researching and casting for branded content?
Hugely. Within Broadcast, we’re known for our casting abilities. With Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, we managed to access a previously impenetrable community. That experience helped us develop a first class casting process, which we’ve applied to every production since.
Take our recent series of films for the Government’s Apprenticeships initiative. The brief called for 13 young men and women from diverse backgrounds, from all over the UK, working in a variety of sectors, who needed to be engaging, eloquent and relatable - and with zero skeletons in the cupboard. That’s a few boxes to tick. It’s a walk in the park compared to finding men who dress up in PVC puppy costumes and are happy to talk about doing so on camera - a casting challenge we had for Channel 4’s Secret Lives Of The Human Pups.
Q > Are there any sectors in particular that work well for branded content?
Sport. Cars. Alcohol. The sectors in which brands (some of them, at least) can truthfully claim to have fans. Charities too. And brands that align themselves with issues that people actually care about or possess an outlook or attitude they themselves share.
Q > What would your dream brief be?
Anything that combines an authentic human story with a really smart distribution plan. That’s what gets us excited. Last year, we created a TV and online series for Nike with AKQA, called Rise Philippines. It was a large, complex production running over several months and was a great test of our multi-platform storytelling chops. That’s always the dream: to work with a brand with vision, heart and ambition - one that challenges us to take authentic storytelling into new realms.
Q > Finally, what do you see as the future for branded content?
The rise of brand commissioners and brand-led channels. There is a huge opportunity for brands to produce high quality, genuinely enjoyable shows and series – the sort that will have audiences on the edge of their seats, eagerly awaiting the next episode.
I can see brands moving further away from the artifice of advertising and embracing real life in all its unfettered glory. We’ve always been driven to show people as they are and to explore the human condition. There is something very empowering about that. Born In The Wrong Body was a Channel 4 series we made about trans people who, at that point (pre-Caitlyn Jenner), hadn’t taken up much of the mainstream’s headspace. Imagine if brands were to recognize and relate to people as they really are. Imagine the strength of the relationship that would exist between them.
Genre: Documentary , People , Storytelling