BCON bits: Giving brands some character

Ahead of his talk at BCON Expo, Robert Lambrechts on how products can be characters in films like Intel's latest project.


In the lead up to BCON Expo 2015 on March 25, strategy asks speaker Robert Lambrechts of Pereira & O’Dell Entertainment what can be expected of his talk on the upcoming social film from Intel and Dell, What Lives Inside, starring Oscar winner J.K. Simmons, Colin Hanks and Catherine O’Hara.

What can we expect from your talk at BCON Expo 2015?

I think we’ll talk primarily about the “Inside Films” series (from Intel) and then also the latest installment, which we should be able to show part of. It’s just a very effects-heavy project. We’re working with this company called MPC, which has done every giant special effects movie around. And then I think it will be primarily the philosophy of Pereira & O’Dell Entertainment – how we come up with ideas, how we work with brands to create those ideas and maybe where we see/hope brand entertainment is going.

What was the process for developing What Lives Inside like?

This is the fourth in probably what could be called the most successful branded entertainment partnership ever. Intel has a proven platform in the Inside series that they took to Dell, and Dell was super interested in the platform. They had a brand new product, the Dell Venue, which is a pretty cool tablet. It’s the world’s thinnest tablet and has an amazing camera on it.

We developed an idea for them that became What Lives Inside. Two brands came together – Intel and Dell – to create this sort of magical tablet that can do new, different things. We took a little bit of that same approach to create this magical film to showcase this new product.

The way that this one happened, like most ideas, was a couple of people sitting around a room thinking of what could be interesting. We came up with the idea of a famous puppeteer and got a paragraph together. I went and wrote a short story based on the little paragraph that we had – it was a 25-page short story, and then took that and used that as the basis of the story. Our director, Robert Stromberg, got interested in the story and then that became a screenplay, and that became a film.

What are some of the principles that make branded entertainment projects like Intel and Dell’s successful?

What I think what Pereira & O’Dell has done is found a niche for ourselves. Brands always want to work with Hollywood people. But, they have trouble because a lot of times the writers and directors seem like divas and don’t do what the brand needs, and they have a hard time dealing with the corporate-ness of any sort of project like that. Hollywood people have a perception that working with brands is difficult and they’re not going to get to do what they want and their art is going to suffer for it.

What we’ve been able to do quite successfully is bridge the two. We create the stories that have a brand at the centre, have a brand as a character, or the brand is an integral part of the story, and then we bring in phenomenal talent to help bring those stories to life.

One of the reasons I think the Intel series has been successful is that to some degree, we trusted the people we hired. We trust the talent to bring the story to life and we kind of let them do their thing. We try not to micromanage them, we’re always there to protect the brand’s interests and that’s why it’s been successful.

I think that everyone has been trusting in a way. The talent that we bring trusts us and the brands trust us to know that we’re in pursuit of doing something amazing, but to that end, it needs to do something for them as well. It can’t just be an art piece that everyone admires but no one pays attention to.

So how do you do that – remain authentic and entertaining, but with the brand in mind?

At its heart [the content] needs to be entertaining since we are relying on people to spend 10, 15, 20 minutes per episode with us, and the brand needs to be involved. The one thing we’ve tried to do is always, especially with Intel, make them a character.

They play an integral role, but what you’re never going to hear in an Intel film, or any film that we do probably, is a character stopping to talk about product specifics. You’re going to see Colin Hanks using this amazing tablet, but you’re never going to hear him say “wow, I never expected a tablet to be able to do this!” We definitely keep entertainment at the forefront and the brand plays a character and a role in that entertainment.

What if a brand doesn’t have the budget for such high-level production value? What should the starting point be?

You should be entertained, so you start from there. Then it works like everything else – what can you do for the budget? Maybe it’s not a 40 minute series that lives on Hulu. Maybe it’s a five- to 10-minute short film that we use as a pilot to try to sell to a network for them to pick it up and the brand to use later.

You don’t have to spend $10 million to create branded entertainment. You can spend $200,000 and do it well, it’s just a matter of keeping the entertainment value there and then also somewhat managing your expectations [in terms of] what to expect from this specific piece of entertainment.

It’s not an exclusive club that only the big brands can do. I think if it’s exclusive in any way, it’s exclusive to brands who are not afraid of some risk. It takes some guts to do it. There’s also a whole other side to it where you don’t just make a short film and then hope it does well. You make a short film and then you develop a media strategy around that so that it’s seen and will be successful for the money you’ve put into it.

How have you seen branded entertainment change over the past few years, since Intel’s series launched?

It’s getting more crowded. More brands, more people are looking to do it. It probably will only get more crowded as we go on.

I think you’re also seeing a bigger shift in that Hollywood is seeing it as an opportunity for them. If you look at CAA, which is the largest talent agency in the world, now they have an internal branded content/branded entertainment team that is doing things. They did the Chipotle Farmed and Dangerous work. I think there’s a realization from Hollywood that this is a way to get projects made and that if you find the right partners, you can make interesting things.

What future trends are you expecting for branded entertainment?

If you look at the media landscape in general – branded, unbranded, everything – it’s becoming way more niche. The possibility of being a monolith TV show or network or anything like that is almost impossible because there’s just so many channels for so many different things. I think what will happen is, as more of these channels [are launched] and traditional networks and outlets for entertainment look for new ways to generate revenue and get things created, you’re going to start seeing a return to branded entertainment in the way that it used to be.

People talk about branded entertainment as something new, but it’s really not. It was really the first way that people advertised. If you look at radio shows and early TV shows – soap operas are soap operas because Procter & Gamble paid for them and they had brands attached to them. It’s less of something becoming new and it’s kind of going a little back to where we started, just the landscape is different.

Robert Lambrechts. Photo credit: Mabel FeresRobert Lambrechts is head of development at Pereira & O’Dell Entertainment.