Author: Ben Shaw, Strategist, BBH London

In the last of our blog posts with Dan Light we’ve saved the trickiest questions for last. What, if any, are the roles for brands in these transmedia extensions of the narrative? Can it ever get deeper than product placement and, if so, can brands ever make a legitimate contribution to the storytelling experience?

In the past decade we’ve seen that the music industry had to get screwed before it would change, the newspaper industry is struggling and the film industry is being forced to reinvent itself. Can entertainment industries transform themselves? Where do you see the film industry going?

I think the film industry is going to polarise. I think you’re going to have your Avatars – they will be big 3D events that will be 15-year projects and will command bigger and bigger sums of money.

At the other end will be the classic independent films, built around a good story but also written from the ground up, with a view to all the ways in which that story can be told, developed and audiences be found.

So brands need to find new ways to engage audiences and clearly sponsorship of this kind of content is a legitimate path, albeit it represents a fairly transactional relationship with the producer. Is this how you see the role of brands developing?

I always thought CASTAWAY was a reasonably good example, with the FedEx brand being woven into the very fabric of the film.  I’m sure some people hate it, but I’d rather that than a film where there are ten different consumer electronic products brandished in clear view at some point in proceedings.

Tom Hanks, Castaway

So your view is proper integration into the story, as opposed to product placement?

I think it’s about getting a brand involved early enough to figure out a way to work it in there which isn’t contrived.  Like [Mother Vision’s] SOMERSTOWN and Eurostar, where the brand provides a discreet, credible backdrop to the film.  I registered the branding whilst I was watching it, but I only found that afterwards that they’d been involved in helping fund the film, which communicated something positive to me about their brand.  If there are independent films being made that are as good as SOMERS TOWN and it’s happening because a brand like Eurostar can find a way in and is prepared to get involved, then that’s great.


Versus say, Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone’ video, which seems completed prostituted with product placement. There is a point where she has Diet Coke cans in her hair, then she pulls out a branded phone on virgin mobile… I could go on and on…
But from what I understand about that video, it’s almost post-modern, and self-referential.  It’s saying ‘I’m prostituting myself by doing this, and I’m going to make as much money as possible by doing it. I don’t have a problem with that, and I don’t care if you do.’

The past few years we’ve seen a lot of brands putting themselves in social environments online and hoping consumers will share and talk about their product or service, without creating anything truly participative to fuel the conversation. How do you tackle this when you create and distribute film content online?

A great example of this is the IRON MAN 2 interactive trailer.  That was embedded on a lot of major film blogs when it broke, then picked up by a lot of the second tier blogs.  It ended up with thousands of embeds and three quarters of a million impressions in less than a week.

Hold that up against the paid media equivalent, a standard MPU, which is only on the page because someone’s been paid to put it there.  The interactive trailer is there because someone has chosen to put there.   You’re not having to pay for any of the impressions it generates, once you have created something cool.

Yes, though we find the fact there’s a cost involved in seeding the content is often left out of the equation.

There is if you want to break big like that and it’s easier when you’re talking IRON MAN, where there’s so much existing interest.  But also, I think the timing there was spot on.  People had seen the trailer, and this was exactly the time to reveal a bit more of the film, ahead of the impending media blitz.

Do you think that it was down to the huge draw of the content, or because it was so shareable?
Both really.  The wrapper that was used for that had been developed over a number of years, with Facebook and Twitter functionality displayed at the top level.  They represent a huge proportion of the market when it comes to shareable content.  There are probably thirty other social networks integrated into that wrapper, but none of them are at anything like the same level as Twitter or Facebook.  But you need to create content that people will feel a proactive urge to share.  That’s not especially difficult with something like IRON MAN, but it might be much tougher with a less glamorous brand or property.

This was the last installment of our interview with the wonderful Dan Light; look out in the coming months for big news regarding his next projects. Dan is @danlight on Twitter, and scribes a rather excellent blog over at