Branded Content Production. Then (1930s) and Now.

When it was first shown, critics exhorted it as a new form of cinema. Ordinary working class people were for the first time talking to the screen expressing their disgust at their rat-infested slum living conditions.

Housing Problems made in the UK in 1935 today persists as a seminal film — a must watch — in the evolving problematic story form that would be called documentary but it also heralded an early identifiable class of what we know today as branded content.

Its progenitor the great John Grierson relied on funds from the British Commercial Gas Association (BCGA) which would have come as a surprise to the funders that there was not an interview or a shot of BCGA member in sight.

Segue today to branded content about a DNA Journey as men and women in a talking heads format face the prospect of where they’re really form. This populist film reveals its backers only at the end when the credits say Momondo: Letsopenourworld.com

Vimeo award winning filmmaker Elliot Rausch’s tear-jerking uplifting Star Bucks-backed film includes interviews from the brand but the stars are the people and the filmmaking. The brand’s presence is measured.

The fuzzy blurred line between advertising, propaganda, documentary, news and branded content is a deep seated one. In the 1990s as a reporter for London’s ITV News reporting on Virgin’s move into hosting concerts, one of my interviewers was clear from his research, young people know when they’re being fed advertising gumf.

It was true then and is true now. Note however that in this news piece, the overall style of production is that we readily identify now as news. John Grierson’s innovative form of the 1930s would have elements lifted into news journalism. Today, however, films, including documentary veer towards a cinema (expressively performative) when talking to audiences.


The significant evolutionary changes to storytelling (I document in a forthcoming book) specifically in the last ten years have been the number and nature of constituents telling their stories. YouTube has spawned millions of millennial stations and new stars, and commercial businesses and NGOs e.g. Greenpeace no longer need to rely on their video press release and the largesse of television news for oxygen.

A related development has been the myriad production tools and platforms now available, from the once populist Flash and its pioneers Brendan Dawes, Yugo Nakumura, Eric Natzke, Hillman Curtis (R.I.P) and the Holo group; HTML 5/ Java scripting; Klynt for interactive factuals and Unity for VR.

Yet the growth of video continues unabated, buoyed by increasing mobile phone usage and its indefatigable association with social media platforms, and to cite the seminal Did You Know video circa 2008 there are applications that will include video that have not yet been invented.

There’s a sound argument to equate the creativity of modern video with the birth of film in 1900s. Back in the 1900s cats boxing, and a train arriving at a station amount to today’s viral one-scene videos. Back then as now, the craving for narrative from the audience extended the vocabulary of film. There’s still a whole lot of language to be uncovered.

For more information on this scheme and others, you can email me at David@viewmagazine.tv . I teach and train a variety of people from corporates to students, from around the world using different methods and kit, such as Beirut, near the Syrian border, China, and Cairo. My websites arewww.daviddunkleygyimah.com ; www.viewmagazine.tv andwww.videojournalism.co.uk


Dr David Dunkley Gyimah
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