As Hollywood strikes run rife this week, brands are coming to Hollywood’s rescue. We couldn’t write about brands and Hollywood without mentioning Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie. Mattel reportedly gave Gerwig a lot of latitude in telling Barbie’s story, and if the film succeeds, it may encourage more brands to pursue similar storytelling.

“It is about creating great stories, powerful stories, interesting stories that people want to see — and our brands want to therefore be in and around — and that can sell to the marketplace,” Kimberly Doebereiner, P&G’s group VP of the future of advertising and the studio’s head, told Insider.

The brand bucks are a welcome source of revenue and activity for a hobbled Hollywood as striking writers and actors can still do commercial work. 

For a bit of background on the strikes, in a 2020 survey conducted by the Shift Project, 14% of gig workers said they earned less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The majority — about 64% — of gig workers said they earned between $0 and $14.99 an hour, whereas about 89% of W-2 workers, those employed by a company, said they earned at least $10 an hour.

Since almost all gig workers are classified as independent contractors, they don’t receive the standard protections and benefits that ordinary employees typically receive. This includes things like a minimum wage, health insurance, access to unemployment insurance if they get laid off, paid sick days, and health-and-safety protections. 

There are now even organisations such as Brand Storytelling which has held a festival for brand content alongside the Sundance Film Festival for the past seven years. Brand film submissions have almost tripled to 160 in the past three years, according to Rick Parkhill, director and co-founder of Brand Storytelling.
“There’s money moving that way,” Parkill said. “The quality of the content is far greater, and the level of directors, talent they’re bringing — you can just see it in the work. You have directors seeking this work.” Saint Laurent, for example, has paired with Pedro Almodóvar and David Cronenberg to make films.

What’s new is that brands are trying to get distribution by major streamers to make sure their projects get seen (and in some cases, share the cost or even make a profit). They’re also becoming more systematic about tracking measurement and results.

It’s a subtle paradigm shift for Hollywood, where the attitude that films made by brands are impure is easing. Brands want buyers to know they can also help projects reach a wide audience with their marketing know-how. Some in the brand entertainment space see a day when the streamers actively seek out content from brand-driven studios as they would any Hollywood production company.

As with any change, there is reluctance towards a larger infiltration of brands in Hollywood. Brands are often still inclined to make such projects too commercial to resonate as pure entertainment for audiences. This could affect the quality of cinema as we know it. And there are limits to the type of stories that brands will want to tell. At the end of the day, whoever is paying the bills will have a say in what sort of content gets funded.

In a modern Hollywood threatened by short form content, however, branded films can one-up their non-branded counterparts. With what exactly? Audience pre-recognition. Because people already know something about the story, the studios surmise, they’re more likely to be interested in it. People like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, so they’ll probably click on a movie called “Flamin’ Hot,” the thinking at Hulu went. In a tightening economy, Hollywood has turned toward these kinds of safe bets: 13 more movies based on toys from Mattel, the company behind Barbie, have been announced, and another 45 are in development.

Most of these brand-centric movies have another thing in common, compounding their twinness: Instead of just using the brand as a jumping-off point, they focus on the brand’s origin story. That’s no coincidence either; the rise of this kind of branded success story is an attempt to capitalise on the increasing demand for workers to brand themselves to make a living. 

Categorized in: