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Branded Content & The Passive Voice | In Conversation with Jules Tagg

In the (long overdue) second episode of 'In Conversation' we catch up with Sydney based Creative Content Director, Jules Tagg, to discuss branded content, a passive approach to brand marketing and his journey from Music Management graduate to commercial Director.

Jules Tagg Rckt Co

Jules, thanks for joining us today all the way from Sydney. Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Yeah no worries boys! So, a little about me, I am a Creative Content Director working in Sydney Australia for an agency called RCKTco based in Manly Beach. I have a fairly unique roadmap to get here. I started in the music industry in Marketing, pursued a degree in Music and Arts management, found a love of design and studied post grad digital and graphic design. I have always had a hunger for continual learning throughout my career and will often identify my own skill shortages, then study and teach myself that particular skillset/program/process to ultimately become a better creative and storyteller.

Was that growth and development driven by your own desire as a creative to learn more or was it driven more by the requirements of the job?

I think a bit of both to be honest. I’m one of those people that gets a little bit impatient when I have to wait for something to be done. If I have to outsource something where i know I could do it myself, then I’ll study and teach myself that skillset. For me it is always about understanding what’s a valuable use of your time.

As the projects and teams get bigger the reality is that you can’t wear every hat, but having a grasp of the different specialities like editing, designing and colouring grading gives you a better understanding of how to bring the vision to life and how to best articulate the specifics with each department. That definitely comes with the years of experience though, and it's always a collaborative approach.

Jules Tagg
Jules "Twinkle Toes" Tagg on the tools.

You’ve worked both in-house and agency side now for over a decade. What have you learnt from those experiences?

There’s definitely pros and cons for both in-house and agency side working. As an In-house creative your sole focus is on one brand or product which in theory is great however it can often become creatively stagnant over time due to company idiosyncrasies.

The benefit of working on the agency side is that you have a lot of evidence from a big portfolio of clients that tells you what works and what doesn’t, which ultimately helps you to take more calculated creative risks.

So now you’re at RCKT. Tell us a little bit about them and your role there.

RCKT CO is a content, social, sponsorship & talent agency. We deliver big and brave strategically creative campaigns that better connect brands with their customers.

Being a relatively small agency means that we all have to wear multiple hats and often have to roll up the sleeves to make sure we are moving forward as a business. A typical day will see me designing logos, directing TVC’s, animating, video editing, staff management but also more menial tasks like formatting pitch decks and even running coffees on shoot days, it's a real mix.

Bret Lee
SportsAdda Commercial. Directed by Jules Tagg. Produced by RCKTco

You work on a lot of branded content at RCKT alongside other things. It’s a term that gets bandied around alot as a sort of umbrella term. What is branded content?

The best way to describe branded content is, content that people don’t know they’re being served or sold to. Not in an underhanded way but it’s a hybrid of entertainment and marketing.

For me the sweet spot of branded content is where brands are prepared to take a passive role. Often the challenge is around forcing the story arc or narrative around a brand's propositional value. I think of a brand/product as the seasonings that you add to the dish that is storytelling. You want to perfectly season your narrative with the right amount of ‘brand propositional salt’. Too much and the narrative is unwatchable and lacks authenticity, too little and it never hits clients tastes. Interestingly though, attaining that sweet spot is where the struggle can be sometimes with clients. It can be hard to get people to see the value in not always positioning the brand front and centre in such a visible way. But when you get the balance right, that’s when the content really tastes best.

So how and where do you think that more passive voice fits into a brand's strategy?

It totally depends on a business by business basis. In the case of Land Rover, for example, when we launched their new Defender, the goal was to get as many eyes on the launch as possible, from as many different angles as possible. This informed how we shot our content and obviously where it was hosted. Given the current climate with Covid and travel restrictions, we had to think about how we could make the content relatable to as many people as possible and the concept of the Defender Weekender, small local getaways, was the low hanging fruit that we knew people would be into. We reached out to their current ambassadors and created a bunch of content around the idea of weekend getaways, because that was very topical. It was about showcasing the car in an engaging way and that’s where I think branded content sits in a strategy. The car was the facilitator of the piece, not the hero. It’s more passive than a TVC for example but still showcases what you’re trying to sell in a relatable and engaging way. That’s the sweet spot. Obviously the polished TVCs are still important as well but this was another important avenue along which we could drive eyes to the car.

Why do you think branded content is such a powerful tool in a brand's arsenal these days?

I think what’s great about branded content is that it can really help shape a brand's tone of voice through content. It helps inject character and emotion to ultimately provide a deeper connection between the brand and consumer through narrative.

Red Komodo
Testing out the new Red Digital Cinema Komodo 6k

So what does it boil down to?

At the end of the day I think it’s brand recall... but for the right reasons, if that makes sense. If you can make a piece of content that cuts through the noise and is memorable not just because of the brand, but the story and the journey then that’s a win win right? All the elements of that story should embody the brands values and so subconsciously we’re creating a link between the person watching it, the brand, their values and the journey we’ve taken them on. The story and the journey speak to people more profoundly than purely functional messaging. It's about a more emotional connection and that’s the key to great branded content. Honesty is a big one as well. There needs to be authenticity to the story you’re telling, not just making things up because it fits an agenda or feels like it should play out a certain way.

A lot of brands are trying to operate within the field of branded content but I think the difference is, a lot of them aren’t willing to take that really passive role in the story and the journey and that’s why their stuff doesn't feel like branded content as such, because really it's just an ad.

You work with Under Armour, Jaguar Land Rover, Canon; big brands by anyone's standards. Is branded content as viable an option for smaller brands as well?

I think it depends on the brand presence. Because smaller brands might not have that captive audience in the same way that larger brands do, branded content looks a little bit different for them but it's still definitely a great tool. I think there’s a great opportunity for smaller brands to lean into the more passive style of marketing as a really effective way of building a following and an identity and again, injecting some humanity into their brand.

But it needs to be balanced with a good active marketing strategy?

Exactly. Interestingly, the metrics that we’re seeing coming out of social media, where most of our content is hosted, would suggest that the first 3-6 second of a piece of content is the most important in capturing your audience's attention. That’s the dilemma that we’re faced with with social media. There’s so much content out there that it's hard to grab people so it’s important that you’re coming at a campaign from a few different directions to ensure you're engaging with potential customers in one form or another. That being said though, really good content will always shine through, irrelevant of the size of the brand.

As an agency, how do you guys find these great stories to pair with brands?

I mean, in many ways just through what we’re doing now. We’re chatting about this stuff, swapping stories. That’s where some of the best stories come from. Our DP met a guy at a party a while back, who invented the Hacky Sack and he had all this memorabilia from when he invented it, so we’re going to do a piece on him! It might just end up being a passion project where we don’t have direct involvement from a brand, but it's such a great story.

Too good not to tell!

Exactly! I mean because we’re surrounded by sports through the talent agency and sports marketing arm of the business, a lot of the stories naturally involve some aspect of that. The reality is though, everyday you’ll meet someone who tells you something you don't know. Everyone’s got a story to tell, and that I find captivating, and then its about working with a brand to tell that story. You’re on that journey together. And even if it fails and you film it, it’s still meaningful. There definitely needs to be a strong fit between the story and the brand’s values and beliefs though. You can’t try and fit a square peg into a round hole! A great story should also challenge the brand a little as well though. It should allow you to have fun with the brand a little bit. If you’re having great fun making the content and being on that journey, chances are it’s going to be great fun to watch.

There's a real balance between storytelling and selling with branded content. How do you find you best walk that line?

Brands will always have KPIs they need to hit, so it is important to keep that in mind when crafting the story. Success metrics will look different to each business and differ with each piece of content we produce. So to use the Defender Weekender as an example again, we knew we had to highlight three features of the car but the way we highlighted those features had to be symbiotic with what the talent was doing, and the story as a whole, otherwise it wouldn’t have made sense and it would have felt clunky. When we were in the snow with Elyse Knowles, for example, it was putting the car into snow mode. Or the car's sand capability with Sally Fitzgibbons on the beach. So there was a natural reason that we were pointing to those features woven into the story. That’s probably an easier example than in some cases but that’s because the story and the brand were such a great fit. We were able to pretty easily retrofit the marketing requirements into the story in this case.

Sally fitzgibbons defender weekender
Sally Fitzgibbons's Defender Weekender. Produced by RCKTco

There’s obviously a great deal of trust placed in you as a director, your company but also placed in the brand to allow you to do your job and be creative. What do you reckon the key is to a good client / agency relationship?

It’s what you just said! Trust, confidence and track record. I would like to think that we are a great group to work with, we have fun and we love what we do.

So what would be your advice to brands thinking about dipping their toes into the waters of branded content?

I think first and foremost it has to be why have you decided you want to do this, you know, what's the end outcome? And then what is the message you’re trying to get across? Also where are the eyeballs on this thing, where's it going to live, who’s going to watch it. These are some key ingredients that will form part of that story and how you go about approaching it.

It’s very easy to get wrapped up in what you think will be an exciting story and not take the time to really think about the strategy behind it, huh?

Exactly, sometimes you’ve got to curb that enthusiasm a bit first.

Are there any other projects that you've worked on that really stick out to you as being a blast to shoot and were successful?

We had an amazing job in New Zealand for Nutri-Grain which was a world first. We used a chopper to tow professional athletes on Surf Life Saver boards onto a massive wave in one of the most remote coastlines on earth. We had this cool combination of elite athletes, insane scenery, this world first attempt and a brand that gave us enough rope (pun intended) to tell the story in the right way. After a week shooting we managed to capture an amazing story and we worked closely with the brand to weave the brand messaging throughout.

A World First - Georgia Miller & Matt Bevilacqua | UNSTOPPABLE NUTRI-GRAIN
Unstoppable Nutri-Grain. Produced by RCKTco

So there’s three real players in this dynamic we’ve been talking about; the brand, the story and the subjects all playing their part to bring this piece of content to life.

Exactly! I mean very often the subjects are already involved in the brand in some way so they’ve already got a story and a history there that we work with. But 99% of the time it's the people and their real life stories that bring a piece to life.

So that’s the sweet spot right there right, authenticity in terms of subject, story and brand integration.

Exactly! And that’s really when you have the most fun creating it and it’s likely to do best as a piece of content. Everything is just working harmoniously and authentically. It all just comes together. You’re just there to capture and distill it.

Patagonia films come to mind!

Exactly, look at Patagonia, you think about these beautiful places in the world and you very often think of Patagonia, the films they’ve made there and the amazing human stories they've told against these breathtaking backdrops. What Patagonia do with their branded content is amazing. From an outsiders point of view it injects what is ultimately an apparel brand, albeit a super high tech one, with this tangible sense of adventure, accomplishment and human achievement that we as consumers want to be a part of and want in our lives!

And those films, those pieces of content, aren’t really viewed as pieces of marketing content, because we’re along for the journey like any other film. There’s that authenticity that just draws us in.

And that means people are doing their jobs right!

The 'In Conversation' series is a selection of informative discussions with industry professionals from across the UK and beyond working in the film, tv and commercial filmmaking industry.

Designed to draw back the curtain on a variety of key aspects of commercial and narrative filmmaking, our industry pros share their experiences, tips and tricks as we discuss their backgrounds, how they got into the industry, and what goes into making great work!

If there’s a particular topic you’d like us to cover, drop us an email at hello@snap.studio.