The Changing Face of Branded Entertainment: A Conversation With UGG, Martin Snyder, and Laurent Briet

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Recently we had the chance to speak about the changing face of branded entertainment with three movers and shakers in the field — footwear company UGG Australia and filmmakers Martin Snyder and Laurent Briet. It was a fascinating conversation.
See their short film Unplug, starring Jon Abrahams, Steve Olson, and Amanda Gorski here, and then let your mind run free with the possibilities in the exchange that follows below.

Paste : Let’s talk for a bit about how the concept of branded entertainment has been going through a paradigm shift recently.
UGG: Branded entertainment has evolved alongside consumer’s video consumption habits – it’s no longer a world where a single commercial video goes viral. Consumers want to see behind the scenes, they want to know about the craftsmen and women who produced it, and they have a shorter attention span than ever before. Brand messaging is still core, but its delivery is dictated by those who watch – meaning the end product needs to strike the right balance with authenticity.
Martin Snyder: I think brands are continually looking for different ways to engage audiences. Telling a story through narrative is one of them. Because production costs have come down brands and agencies are finding that it’s not how much you spend but how effective your message is.

Paste: The exciting thing, to me, about branded entertainment is that when it’s done right, it’s win-win-win. The brand partner, the filmmaker, and the consumer each get something they want. Right?
UGG: Absolutely. When you approach content creation strategically – and each stakeholder is creatively inspired by the project – the return is truly engaging content. The filmmaker is able to live his or her creative dream, the brand is able to present itself unique light, and the consumer is able to share some sticky content with their friends. More than just a simple win/win, it should be basis of every great brand/influencer partnership.
Snyder: Absolutely. I am a filmmaker and a consumer so ultimately if I am an existing customer or respond to the product, I am going to find a unique way to engage with it and tell a story.
Laurent Briet: What was great is that we had to develop a film to capture a concept at that served the brand rather than a product. Working in that fashion the product could be featured very naturally. Nothing is forced.

Paste: Tell me about the Creative Council and their mission.
UGG: The Creative Council is all about personal inspiration and creativity. We wanted to break the mold of simply seeding influencers with product for sponsored blog posts, tweets, or Instagrams. We wanted to form long-term partnerships around creative projects – inspired by what makes them tick. In the end, the influencers work on a project that doesn’t feel heavy commercialized, the brand has fantastic content to promote through multiple channels, and the consumer is introduced to our brand through the lens of an influencer they trust.
Snyder: The Creative Council was formed by UGG Australia to foster and support the creative spirit of artists. I was fortunate to be asked to be a part of it.

Paste: How did all of you get hooked up together – brand, agency, filmmaker – and why did each of you choose the others to work with?
UGG: Some are agency selections, some are our own. We look at a bevy of metrics, their digital presence, the sites they use most frequently, etc. But in the end, it comes down to two key factors: they quality of content they create on their own and their affinity for the brand. The best content comes from alignment, with the brand at its center.
Snyder: I had worked with UGG Australia’s digital agency 360i in the past and they recommended me to the council. I brought Laurent on board because I had initially conceived of an idea revolving around a band at Coachella. Because Laurent has extensive experience with directing music videos and I with narrative, I thought it would be a great combo. When the direction of our concept changed, it didn’t take away from the fact that Laurent is talented and so we decided to move forward with our new conceit.
Briet: Marty called me with a project that was originally heavily centered around filming a band’s performance with a narrative element. With my experience in music videos and marty’s narrative body of work, the collaboration was a no brainer. But finding the right band to work with turned out to be a greater challenge than what we expected, and the project evolved more toward a short story. We really wanted to work together so we bounced ideas of each other to come up with what you saw.

Paste: How does this story link to the message of the brand, and inspire action or change in the audience?
UGG: Each season we approach the Creative Council differently, as each season brings new product stories, campaigns, and brand objectives. By having new partners (we never work with the same influencers twice on Council) we can ensure authenticity and add new networks to our own. The audience isn’t accustomed to absorbing branded content in this fashion, making our content unexpected – yet inviting.
Snyder: The story is about being free, letting loose, not being tied to your desk, computer, cell phone, going on adventures. I think all of these things resonate strongly with how I view the brand. If someone watching the short decides to take an unexpected journey or to “unplug” for a few hours, or perhaps day, then the message has worked. I think we tend to lose a lot of potential connections because we are so tied to looking at our facebook, twitter and instagram in public instead of engaging with others. I’m a certainly guilty of this.

Paste: Marty, tell me about your partnership with Laurent, and about building the cast.
Snyder: Laurent is a friend and a very talented filmmaker with a strong handle on camera and technical know how. I always appreciate working with people like this because I not only learn but I am inspired to push myself further as a filmmaker. Jon Abrahams, the hero of our short, was the male lead in my debut feature Missed Connections. He is incredibly talented and underused so I want to change that. For the role of the hitchhiker I was looking for a Mickey Rourke type and Jon suggested legendary pro skateboarder Steve Olson. After talking with Steve, I knew I had my guy. (I tend to cast on instinct rather than on experience.) And the lovely girl who plays Steve’s daughter is my fiancé Amanda Gorski.
Briet: We seem to complement each other very well. Marty is an accomplished writer, I am strong technically, but what I enjoyed the most is to have someone to exchange ideas with, being challenged. There is no ego between us, it’s all about the best idea, what will make the film better.

Paste: I’d assume that compared to traditional advertising, the cost per pair of eyeballs is much less with a project like this, and the impact on hearts and minds is much greater. Have you found that to be the case?
UGG: Consumers know the difference between a paid advertisement and authentic content. The power of a brand being presented through a trusted resource, rather than just the brand itself, is undeniable. It’s why we created Creative Council and why we feel its been successful.

Paste: What do each of you feel you’ve gotten out of this project?
UGG: Over about a year, we’ve assembled a team of highly influential digital tastemakers who have or will work with us on branded projects. We’re proud of this group and of the content they have produced and journeys they’ve gone on. They’ve given us credibility that cannot be achieved by brand-produced content alone. It’s also exciting to have influencers approach us, asking how they can be a part of the Creative Council.
Snyder: I had the opportunity to work with an amazing team of people at UGG Australia who allowed me to tell my story who I felt it needed to be told. There was zero interference from both them and their agency. Lastly I got to work with a group of friends out in the desert. Nothing beats doing what you love with the people that you love.
Briet: For me the most important thing I got from this project was to realize how much I enjoyed collaborating with someone else.

Paste: What are each of your ultimate goals when it comes to branded entertainment?
UGG: To enlighten hearts and minds. A lot of people believe they know and understand the UGG brand and the truth is, they may not. The only way for people to see who you are as a brand is to show them who you are, not tell them. Content such as the short film we did with Marty is a perfect example of this. It allows people to see the brand’s character through the lens of a talented director which we believe is a powerful one.
Snyder: I want to continue to make stories that integrate brands in organic ways. Imagination is a resource that keeps replenishing.