Branded content: the future of short films

Today it is common practice for us to skip or block advertising when we are watching TV shows or online video content. Interrupting our entertainment with an unwanted 30-second advertisement makes us grumpy. Smart marketing folk are realising they have to find another way to reach us. They are partnering with filmmakers to create sponsored storytelling that will draw audiences in instead of driving them away.

The concept of a branded film is not new, but it is evolving. Modern audiences are media savvy from the barrage of messaging we are confronted with every day. Successful branded movies must encompass both compelling storytelling, and convincing advertising. If product placement or branding is too overt and lacks an engaging story behind it, we are quick to identify this and lose interest.

Here are three examples of clever branded content films that tell us a story while delivering an advertising message:


Ambush, directed by John Frankenheimer, is a fast paced action film starring Clive Owen. This is the first short in a series sponsored by BMW called The Hire. When this film debuted in 2001, it was one of the first examples of successful branded content. Ambush went viral before anybody even knew what going viral was.

The premise of the films in this series was simple. In each short, Clive Owen plays ‘The Driver’ – an enigmatic, James Bond type character – who is hired for dangerous and/or entertaining missions by his clients.

Ambush unequivocally feels like a short film, rather than an advertisment. The only branding is product placement with the BMW car, which does feature throughout the movie. BMW hired top directors such as Ang Lee and Alejandro González Iñárritu, and stars like Madonna and Gary Oldman. The ambitious scale of these productions was one reason for the series’ success, but the immense production budgets required also meant they were not sustainable.

The Hire was a ground-breaking series that changed the landscape for filmmakers and advertisers, offering a vision for successful future partnerships. The anthology received the first ever Titanium Lion at the Cannes Lions festival in 2003, and was inducted permanently as a MoMA exhibit.


Fashion films are one of the most common types of branded content. The pairing of fashion and film is a natural one. It makes sense that clothing designers, apparel companies and fashion magazines should partner with filmmakers to show their clothes in motion. Costuming has always been a vital tool for filmmakers in bringing their characters to life. Both fashion designers and filmmakers have taken inspiration from one another since the inception of the silver screen.

Reincarnation is a Karl Lagerfeld film starring Cara Delevingne and Pharrell Williams. It was designed to accompany the Paris-Salzburg 2014/15 Métiers d’Art collection. The film is a lavish re-imagining of the moment when Coco Chanel noticed the jacket of a bellboy that inspired her signature jacket

Watch the making of the film here.

A Woman’s Epic Journey to Climb 7 Mountains

A Woman’s Epic Journey to Climb 7 Mountains is a short documentary by Sean Kusunagi, following Wasfia Nazreen, the first Bangladeshi to scale the Seven Summits. She climbed the highest mountains in all seven continents, including Kilimanjaro, Denali and Everest – as a way to inspire the women of her country.

This short is immensely moving, with beautiful cinematography. It explores Wasfia’s life, her drive and her mission.

A Woman’s Epic Journey to Climb 7 Mountains was shot on an iPhone 6s, and produced by RYOT in association with Apple. Although Apple sponsored the documentary, this is more than a demonstration of the video capabilities of the phone. The film is a well-crafted character portrait of an inspiring figure, and was rightly selected for the National Geographic Short Film Showcase.