Why Branded Content is ‘the Gold Rush for Visual Creativity’
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Brands2Life head of film Matthew Peltier on growing up mixed race in East London, his start at the BBC and why B2B branded content is more hungry for storytelling than you’d think
Matthew Peltier’s background working in the BBC documentary commissioning department has set him in surprisingly good stead for the role he fills these days as head of film for Brands2Life. Back then he saw ideas people were passionate about get pitched to TV executives and often rejected. Once those filmmakers had gone through the five commissioners at the major UK TV channels, he saw those ideas die.
With branded content still, as he sees it, in its infancy, Matthew is excited by the prospect that every marketing director in the world can now join that list of commissioners, meaning that no matter what niche subject matter or subculture you care about, there will probably be a brand out there who’s willing to support content about it.
Keen to hear more about Matthew’s prophecy for the future of branded content, LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with him.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what were you like as a kid? Any clues about your creative future back then?
Matthew> I grew up mixed-race in a white family, first in the East End but mostly in North London, Kentish Town. We left the East End because in the eighties it wasn’t a place to raise a brown baby in a white family, with no dad around. My mother was a drama teacher and she harnessed the importance of storytelling and how wide the world is when it comes to inspiration and interests. She dragged me to Notting Hill carnival to make sure I experienced the other side of my cultural story, dragged me to the theatre to understand other people’s views and dragged me around monasteries in Italy to make sure I understood other people’s beliefs. All of these things have fed in, in some way, to the stories I tell today.
LBB> How did you first get interested in advertising?
Matthew> I started in TV, at the BBC. I was a letter-opening-treatment-photocopying-gibbon in their documentaries commissioning department and it was the university degree I didn’t receive officially. I read 10,000 ideas a year, for three years and it showed me just how many stories were out there ready to be told and what you needed to do and say to convince others to let you create them. I learned what ideas looked like on the page and how they evolved into what we see on screen.
I heard about the story first and the message second. It worked well and gave me a point of difference when I moved into marketing and branded content as I didn’t much care for the products features, but instead about what the audience wanted/needed to understand in order to believe.
LBB> In branded content you work for a host of clients from Samsung to LinkedIn. What is the difference between these brands and the similarities?
Matthew> Branded content is by far the most exciting place to be in the creative industries right now. It is the gold rush for visual creativity and will see more change in the next five years than any other form of advertising. From Samsung to LinkedIn and all the brands I’ve been lucky enough to work with in-between the same problem rises time and time again. How do we fold the product into the story? And the answer is, nine times out of 10… you don’t. And you shouldn’t try to.
We live in a world so submerged in content that the audience need not stick around for your film, series or short unless it is doing something for them, first, the priority. The desire to weave in product is because the marketing managers need to be showing results to their bosses when they need to be showing results to their audience. With LinkedIn (Sales Solutions, LinkedIn’s B2B side) we’ve been lucky because they already know they want to talk about relationships and what makes people feel some way about their lives, jobs, friends, family. They championed that part of the story and as a result we are creating films and campaigns that have the story at the heart and the product as the reason for the story existing. This is the way round it should be.
LBB> What were the challenges in launching those campaigns and how did you and the team overcome them?
Matthew> I work more and more in B2B branded content which has historically not had acclaim of its B2C sibling. The funny thing is, the hunger for great storytelling and human stories is far stronger with our clients than I ever had with previous consumer brands. I guess it comes down to the task, seemingly, being harder to achieve - selling sales tools to salespeople is potentially harder than selling lifestyle products to lifestyle product-loving consumers.
B2B is still one person trying to connect with another, whether it be about shoes or jam or computer hardware, the audience still needs to be inspired and understood, in order for those sales to happen.
LBB> What other projects that you've worked on are you most proud of?
Matthew> A lover of the story first, my proudest moments will always be those that made others laugh out loud or shed a tear. I worked on a tiny campaign for Interflora about grandparents, and our relationships with them, as a connection point for the audience. Presented by Mark Wright and his grandmother, the breakout star of the early series of TOWIE, the now late Nanna Pat. The warmth we created in such a simple concept still sticks with me as a high point in what I do.
LBB> So far, what have been the biggest lessons from your time at Brands2Life?
Matthew> I had to relearn much of my skill set when changing sectors and it is one of the reasons I made the move. I wanted to challenge myself with a new client type, a new audience and new routes to success. I haven’t nailed every campaign we’ve run but I can see the emotional connection in the content we create growing and blossoming with every project.
LBB> What's your opinion on the current state of branded content?
Matthew> Branded content is still very much in its infancy of where the medium is going to go. When I started in documentary commissions I used to watch these small production companies come in to sell their wares and if they were rejected by the BBC they would go to Channel 4, then ITV, Five and then the cable channels and if none of those broadcasters saw their vision or understood why the subculture or talent they were so passionate about was important to make a film about that film would likely die.
We now live in a world where every marketing director is the commissioner we need to enthuse. From the five you need to defeat like bosses in a 16-bit computer game from my childhood, now we have a sea of thousands of creative marketers and that brings a thousand more opportunities, In 10 years time your favourite shows will be ‘made possible by [insert megabrand]’ and your passion points, niche subject matters and sub-cultures will finally be given an opportunity to exist where they might not have before. And that is when branded content will become the golden age of advertising.
LBB> Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Matthew> I take my inspiration from my mother and my daughter. I constantly force myself to look at the world through the eyes of a 75-year-old or a 7-year old. I ask myself what my mother must have seen and what her generation miss and I imagine what my daughter will go on to see and what we need to be doing in order to make these things possible. With the passing of basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year old daughter I now look harder at the beauty I already have around me and let that love seep into my work.
LBB> What do you do outside of work to cool off?
Matthew> Age isn’t just a number, it is also directly related to the amount of time needed to recover from the smallest amount of exercise. I try and exercise when I’m not working ‘if your body is busy your mind isn’t’ but failing that I’m watching content: be it all of the many streaming subscriptions I have or the branded content stories that aren’t squeezing product in but instead are looking for the human story.
LBB> Following the latest wave in the Black Lives Matter movement following George Floyd's killing and so many others, what's your perspective on creative agencies' part in the anti-racism movement we all need to be engaging in?
Matthew> In the media we have the responsibility, but more importantly the power, to change the way black people are viewed locally, nationally and globally.
The first steps to that change are through education and the encouragement from those in power to search for fresh ideas and fresh thinking.
Once we begin to understand that there is a problem, then we can begin to seek out the cure and only then can we begin to administer it. George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, and the countless others, were the realisation of the problem, for non-black people around the world. The next step is black creativity, black recruitment and black people in positions of power. These will help us find that cure.
My agency has championed diversity and inclusion over the past few years but the leadership, like many, has recognised, following these recent terrible events, that there is now a desperate need to do more faster.
They gave the entire company (150+ people) time away from work to reflect on all that is going on and to mark Juneteenth. The desire from the business is that our teams learn, understand and feel encouraged to make things better; we need to be a force for good on this issue and play our part in changing the world.