For decades, multiple brands have tapped into the brand documentary field and brought amazing stories to their audiences.

Some of you might remember when BMW Films launched their fiction series (“The Hire”) on digital platforms across the world way back in 2001 (actually the year Toast was founded, for those of you counting). This had made a great impact on many levels, as this type of investment in branded content had not been seen very often.

Since then (and even before) other brands have gone a similar route, but still a bit different to BMW, to tell great stories: documentary and journalistic storytelling.

While some brands want to inspire and entertain through great fiction characters and an action-packed storyline, others have more relevancy in telling real stories, with real people, in real settings.

And this is where branded documentaries really shine.

Whether they are a single feature-length or short documentary or a multiple-episode series, the formats create great opportunities for brands to affirm their positioning, their values, activate purpose and carry a message that would be hard to integrate in plain advertising.

What do marketers like about brand films?

  • The story is theirs to tell. They own the narrative and can make it entertaining, relevant, while keeping it in line with business objectives.
  • Brand films allow you to favour owned content rather than a borrowed audience (in comparison with advertising).
  • Brand films can feed, as would traditional advertising, your upper-level funnel, it’s not just about brand building. See the image below, how Marriott created travel packages, based on their film French Kiss.
french kiss package

Why are marketers investing in branded documentaries and brand films?

As Craig David from JWT put it: “Stop interrupting what people are interested in, and become what they’re interested in.”

It is a big endeavour, it can be expensive, but the returns can be extraordinary with the proper strategy. Brand films and documentaries are clearly in the Hero part of the Hero-Hub-Help pyramid of content marketing.

As Jordan P. Kelley puts it in a Forbes article:

“[…] today’s consumer doesn’t want to have their entertainment experience interrupted, and with the overwhelming popularity of streaming, they don’t have to. Ad-free streaming means brands have fewer opportunities to interrupt, and the opportunities they do get are often skippable or simply ignored. Therefore, it has become apparent to many brands that it is in their best interest not to interrupt what consumers want to view, but rather, to become it.”

In the Forbes article, Jordan mentions 3 examples worth watching: “A Fire Inside” (NRMA Insurance), “Fair Play” (P&G) and “We Are as Gods” (Stripe Press). You can also watch other examples Toast’s team has rounded up.

We have produced multiple documentary storytelling with the brands we work with, we have seen firsthand how every time, it has been an opportunity for these brands to strengthen their roots with their audiences, communicate purpose and values, and reinforce the trust and relationship that customers have with the products and services they offer.

And if you want to dive even deeper on the subject, be sure to check out the industry-shaping trends on brand films and documentaries.