How Brands Are Borrowing a Film Format to Inspire Customers


Several brands are enlisting consumers to create their own videos of thanks, which they are then turning into inspirational user-generated content campaigns.

Branded content can do a lot of things: educate, inform, entertain, delight. But can it inspire? Companies are betting that it can, and they’re investing heavily in a tried-and-true filmmaking practice to prove it.

Video Expressions of Thanks

Earlier this year, American Greetings partnered with Harris Poll to measure America’s manners. The companies found that 95 percent of Americans believe our country has a “civility problem.” Close to 80 percent wish that people said thank you more often, however 57 percent “experience barriers to expressing gratitude.”

A brand in the business of putting expressions of gratitude into words, American Greetings took the study as a sign and created TheThankList, launched this month. “(We) want to reach out and engage with consumers who connect with our purpose — to help make the world a more thoughtful and caring place,” says Alex Ho, the company’s executive director. As such, American Greetings challenged consumers to take the time to articulate their gratitude for those who have influenced them and helped shape their lives. Resulting videos and messages are making their way onto the ThankList for all to see.

To get the ball rolling, the brand worked with Oscar-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple to produce an online documentary series comprised of a half dozen videos. Each one portrays a grateful American thanking a family member or friend.

On Twitter, American Greetings leveraged additional survey data to boost interest in the campaign. The brand invited consumers to post their messages and user-generated videos using the #ThankList hashtag.

American Greetings also partnered with The Huffington Post to create a sponsored article that ran in the Gratitude section of the site. Asking New Yorkers to name one person they were thankful for resulted in a photographic series that served as a visual ThankList independent of the campaign site.

“Getting people to think about starting a new behavior, like daily gratitude, requires strong inspiration,” Ho says. “Storytelling via video is a proven way to relate to people on a deep emotional level.”

Stories to Inspire Entrepreneurs

Online documentaries are proving popular in the finance industry as well. Deluxe, maker of checks and provider of marketing services for small businesses, is currently in its centennial year and is using the event as an opportunity to celebrate small businesses and their role within their communities. Called Small Business Revolution, the documentary video series highlights such businesses as An Orange Moon, a vintage furniture store that hopes to revitalize one of Chicago’s less fashionable neighborhoods.

An Orange Moon from The Small Business Revolution on Vimeo.

The campaign includes celebrity spokesperson Robert Herjavec from the TV series Shark Tank, who lends his expertise to help consumers reward a select small business with a cash prize. With videos and photo essays being added throughout 2015 – 100 in all, to complement the centennial theme – Deluxe is using national TV spots and social media to attract viewers and spread the word about the branded content project. Among the social sites it’s leveraging is Instagram, where viewers can find videos and images of small businesses from all over the country, and the owners who built them from the ground up. “Rather than only relying on TV ads, we’re creating powerful and evergreen content that will be sustained throughout the year and beyond, while elevating awareness of the Deluxe brand and placing our name in front of new prospective customers,” says Amanda Brinkman, chief brand and communications officer at Deluxe Corp. “With this photo and documentary series, we want to bring awareness to the important role that small businesses play in our communities.”

What do these campaigns have in common? Both fully embrace the online documentary format and give it the reverence it deserves. In the case of Small Business Revolution, Deluxe enlisted six seasonedstorytellers versed in photojournalism and cinematography to bring the small business features to life. Online video comes in many forms, and all of them have the potential to inspire consumers to take action. By turning over the reins to the experts and letting practiced storytellers shape what’s seen through the campaign lens, however, these two brands manage to go beyond views and shares to create meaningful movements that are intrinsically linked to their products.

Video has long been the linchpin of content marketing, a fixed force around which brand publishing continues to turn. By adopting a documentary storytelling style, brands can tell richer, deeper narratives fortified with value and authenticity.