Branded entertainment is pervasive. You’ve probably shared, “Liked” or been the target of such campaigns without even knowing how this content gets made. Stafford Green, honorary chairman of branded entertainment at Savannah College of Art and Design, is hoping to change that. An award-winning marketer for major brands like Coca-Cola, Stafford partnered with SCAD to start the country’s first academic degree program in branded entertainment, a $44 billion dollar industry. He didn’t arrive at being a brand marketing leader through a formulaic path, but he’s hoping that SCAD’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program will provide a map for those who want to enjoy a career similar to his.
Thread: Welcome to SCAD. For starters, what is branded entertainment?
Stafford Green: Branded entertainment means creating entertaining content that can capture and maintain consumer attention. It allows brands to make deeper connections with their audiences by engaging them wherever they happen to be – at a concert, on a mobile phone, watching TV, sitting with a PC, eating popcorn at a cinema, or experiencing an art installation.
Branded entertainment captivates audiences using great storytelling.
It’s no longer sufficient to simply push messages, especially to Millennials. Consumers increasingly demand brand messages that inform and entertain. Companies need to attract consumers with desirable messages and stories; to give their audience reasons to listen, engage and buy. I was a branded entertainment creative and producer at Coca-Cola. I loved working with a big global brand where I was allowed to combine and cross different artistic mediums in order to connect with consumers. It was fun, lucrative, creative and big. It was a great ride and one that I hope to help others achieve, too.
T: Tell us more about your work for Coca-Cola?
SG: Until last summer, I worked at Coca-Cola for many years helping the company transform how we advertised big brands like Coke, Sprite and Vitamin Water. My team held 'how to' workshops all over the world to teach trends in digital marketing and emerging media. We created The Coca-Cola Content Factory to prove that fans, crowds and small producers can create amazing films, games and websites more quickly and more cheaply by using new methods and technologies. We helped the company achieve great success by changing how it communicates to consumers who are powered up with new devices.
While my team was making an impact in this regard, I found myself wanting to make a personal contribution outside of Coke. So I retired early because I wanted to give back to a younger generation. I know you hear people say that, and it sounds like such spin, but I honestly wanted to do something good for the world. What I had learned in over two decades at Coke was a better, more authentic way of advertising – the kind of cool marketing that is evolving into new forms of communication. SCAD was a perfect fit to help me achieve my mission.
T: What makes SCAD the ideal place to launch an undergraduate degree in branded entertainment?
SG: SCAD is a special place and an ideal launching pad for this creative-business endeavor. Because the university has the faculty and degree programs it takes to make the branded entertainment degree possible, from advertising, to game development and foundations classes, we didn’t have to build the major from scratch. Second, where it was missing classes, like a branded entertainment portfolio development class, SCAD invested the time and energy to create these classes and to do it well. Third, SCAD’s approach to liberal arts, inclusive of subjects like color theory and Western art, gives students a critical and often overlooked foundation for telling authentic stories. It isn’t just about the mechanics.
Home to more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies, Atlanta is laboratory where students can immerse themselves directly into advertising's revolution, and SCAD Atlanta has some of the most amazing equipment. For one, the Digital Media Center, complete with a TV studio, green screen lab, game studies lab and more, allows students to experiment with what they’re learning in order to build an industry-valued portfolio. Simply put, this is a great place to be.
T: How do you go about building a program that is so interdisciplinary in scope?
SG: I worked hard to build a program that will give advertising and art production students a competitive edge for the careers. The idea is that when they graduate with a degree in branded entertainment and are sitting in front of an interviewer, they will be able to answer questions and show a portfolio like no other candidate. They’ll understand how to apply a brand voice to the art of storytelling and possess the brand-inspired production talent to make a film, game or interactive asset. I want grads to rock. The process was driven by the excellent leadership of SCAD’s chief academic officer, Gokhan Ozaysin. He connected me to dozens of smart professors and administrators in many disciplines at SCAD so we could choose the right program requirements. What makes the build particularly terrific is that I leveraged my industry friends, too; people I have met during the course of working in 12 countries over the last 25 years.
Marketing professionals from Microsoft, 20th Century Fox, Apple and Google all had a part in building the curriculum.
Award-winning agencies like Work Club in London gave advice. At conferences I would quiz everyone on program specifics, from L'Oreal, to Buzzfeed and InBev. One thing is certain: the industry, comprised of movie studios, consumer goods companies, agencies and media companies, loves this idea. Their positive response confirmed to me that what we're building at SCAD is unique and valuable. We’re setting the stage to make a difference by giving students the power to create better advertising and to excite and entertain audiences for generations to come.
T: Which academic subjects comprise the degree requirements?
SG: Branded entertainment is a multidisciplinary approach that combines art and science, business and creativity.
The job of this major is to release the grand storyteller in all of us.
Foundational subjects in marketing theory, design, English, writing, drawing and storytelling provide a liberal arts basis. Business and entrepreneurial classes will give students the tools to run their own companies. For those wishing to work for large companies, the program will provide instruction on how to pitch an idea internally and negotiate corporate politics in order to see that idea through to fruition. Concentrations in gaming, film and television, or interactive will give students corresponding production skills and a portfolio for job interviews.
I must emphasize that the overall theme is storytelling. There isn’t a simple formula to what makes good branded entertainment. It’s about creating a uniquely personal and emotional experience every time.
Consumers want quality, branded entertainment anywhere at any time - they will reward companies with their loyalty who get this right. I really look forward to SCAD's branded entertainment graduates creating share-worthy film, game and interactive content that rises above the noise with brilliant branded storytelling. This is exciting! - Joe Tripodi, Chief Marketing & Commercial Officer, The Coca-Cola Company
T: Are graduates with this type of degree and expertise in demand?
SG: Yes and these jobs can be really fun. A quick search for “branded content” or “branded entertainment” on a job site like indeed.com delivers substantial opportunities. That’s because agencies and companies everywhere are starved for content. New media companies, such as Netflix, Amazon and Buzzfeed, need producers for games and films. Movie studios need help authentically placing brands in stories because generic product placement is awful! Gaming companies need new sources of revenue. Creating ways of connecting with brands through smart storytelling is a brilliant way to achieve all of this.