Sam Branson on the socialisation of content

Sam BransonSam Branson, the founder and chairman of production company Sundog Pictures, was speaking at the CASBAA conference in Hong Kong yesterday.

In this interview with Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks, the 28 year-old former model, filmmaker and son of entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson talks about branded documentaries, how to make content shareable, and why brands need to get more emotional.

What’s the secret to building an audience for your content?

If you’ve got content sitting on YouTube, the question is how you get more eyeballs and build interest around the content.

You need to engage people in a conversation around that content and encourage them to share it. And crucially, that conversation needs to be authentic.

Everyone wants to take ownership of something that strikes a chord with people. If it’s funny or interesting, they will share it, and feel clever for passing it on – that’s the psychology of sharing.

We don’t measure our success by how many films we make. We measure it in terms how engaged an audience is, and how willing they are to share our content.

Watch a trailer for Sundog Pictures’ documentary on drugs control, Breaking the taboo:

You’re a big believer in the socialisation of content. Have you ever thought of crowd-sourcing an idea for a documentary?

Not yet. But there is a lot to be said for opening up the production process and building a relationship with your audience before your film comes out. That way they feel they have a sense of ownership of the content when it does.

Which is your social medium of choice for content sharing?

Personally, I think Twitter is a phenomenal platform for starting a conversation. It captures peoples’ attention in a way that is not too demanding of their time, and yet it is still effective at drawing them in. Then, the question is how you build on that conversation through other channels.

What are your thoughts on the impact of social media on content creation?

I don’t think that new forms of media will throw out the old. The will be no big winners or losers. It’s really about collaboration. There’s a lot to learn from YouTube. The big science channels on YouTube all cross fertilize and support each other. It’s an interesting new approach to building a content category.

In your panel session today, you mentioned that Sundog Pictures is open to working with brands. In what sense?

It depends on the conversation a brand wants to have with its audience. We can use our documentary-making skills to tell a story, which would work out a lot cheaper than making an ad. But we don’t pigeon hole what we do. We might recommend sponsoring a YouTube channel.

The key thing is that the content is authentic and shareable – and people don’t tend to share ads. Our starting point is that our clients trust us to create content that starts a conversation.

They trust us to imbue a positive feeling in their brand and take the viewer on an emotional journey. Brands usually exist in happy-land with the content they make, which is fine. But these places are not usually emotionally engaging, because they’re not real life.

The challenge for us is how we instill that emotional element. The documentary we made for Randstadt is actually very moving. We want to leave people feeling good about the story, and that’s the creative tension that sits at the heart of all branded content.

Watch a clip from Sundog’s documentary for Randstadt.

Name another a brand-content idea you admire.

Felix Baumgartner’s jump from the edge of space. It wasn’t Red Bull’s jump, it was Felix’s. It struck the perfect balance between content and brand.

Are their some brands that you won’t work with?

Absolutely. We were asked recently by a big alcohol brand to produce a film on socially responsible drinking. But to be honest, we didn’t think it would be a socially responsible conversation to be having for that brand.

You have to have integrity as a producer. Of course it’s hard to say no to someone who will pay you a lot of money. But what’s the point of telling a story that’s a lie?

We’re about to start working with a power company about new forms of energy. On the face of it, this company might not be associated with current thinking around the future of energy. But to do this properly starts with a conversation online. If we’re happy with the way that goes, then we know we’re the right partner for them.

What brings you to Asia?

It’s a massive market, but it’s hard to penetrate. We’re young, ambitious and we’re trying new things. We want to find people to work with, and produce some amazing films.


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