All Articles Marketing Marketing Strategy How brands are leveraging long-form storytelling

How brands are leveraging long-form storytelling

MacGillivray Freeman Films’ Shaun MacGillivray shares the importance of using long-form storytelling practices like documentaries in advertising and marketing campaigns to leverage a brand’s connection with consumers around social movements.

4 min read

Marketing Strategy

How brands are leveraging long-form storytelling

janjf93 / Pixabay

Storytelling is a delicate and meaningful art form that has the power to position a brand within the greater context of the world around it. Increasing amounts of consumers are becoming more aware of their social responsibility and the power their personal spending habits have on global and social issues. Consumers are taking the time to research brands more thoroughly, and make sure that a brand’s values align with their own.

This shift in behavior, wherein consumers are paying more attention to corporate social responsibility than ever before, highlights the need for brands to develop narratives and practices that demonstrate their key messaging and core values in an entertaining and engaging way.

Long-form storytelling through film

One of the best ways for brands to get their message across is through long-form storytelling. A great example of this is Johnson & Johnson’s 2019 film “5B,” a documentary exploring the 1983 opening of nurse Cliff Morrison’s Ward 5B, the first dedicated AIDS unit in the country amid the 1980s AIDS epidemic. J&J commissioned the film in 2019 as a way to support the company’s mission of helping the international fight against AIDS and supporting nurses on the front lines. The film won the Entertainment Lions Grand Prix at Cannes, which celebrates films that present unskippable ideas and connect with consumers in new, innovative ways.

The success of “5B” demonstrates how J&J is dedicated to the individuals they serve in the healthcare community. As J&J Vice President of Corporate Equity Sarah Colmarino said, “5B bears witness to their stories of courage, of innovation and of a tireless motivation to find a positive outcome in even the most dire situation. We are committed to creating content that advocates for healthcare workers who support the most vulnerable.”

Storytelling through corporate initiatives

Another example of corporate storytelling to demonstrate core values can be seen in the recent initiative announced by employment website Indeed, which recently partnered with screenwriter and actress Lena Waithe’s production company Hillman Grad Productions for a new “Rising Voices” initiative.

The project aims to share stories created by Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) storytellers about the meaning of work and how jobs have the power to change the world. “Rising Voices” shows the world that Indeed and Hillman Grad Productions are dedicated to contributing to a more inclusive work environment in the film industry, as Waithe said of the project, “Our mission at Hillman Grad Productions is to provide opportunities for the filmmakers that Hollywood has ignored, support the talent that hasn’t had access to the business, and advocate for the artists who aren’t on studio lists.”

The solution is simple: Long-form storytelling shows the consumer that a brand has invested in the effort and research to build a better future, and is actively finding ways to communicate those commitments to audiences around the world. Long-form storytelling in advertising and marketing campaigns gives a brand the creative and narrative leeway to demonstrate what role they are choosing to play in shaping a collective future, for the people they directly touch and the world around them. Not only can documentaries and docuseries help exercise brand responsibility, they can also captivate a viewer’s attention and spike engagement rates through cinematic and compelling production.

The takeaway?

Consumers want to be educated, engaged and inspired. In the next advertising campaign you pursue, consider opting for a 20-minute explorative documentary rather than just a 30-second ad. While a short spot might help a consumer remember the name of your brand, they will gain a more personal and emotional relationship with the company as a whole through a video or short film that leaves them feeling ready to take action.

The future of our post-pandemic world and “new normal” is on everyone’s minds, so there is immense opportunity for brands to take the reins and create content that will motivate employees, audiences, and the next generation of consumers.


Shaun MacGillivray is the president and producer of MacGillivray Freeman Films. He produced MacGillivray Freeman’s “Into America’s Wild,” “America’s Musical Journey,” “Dream Big,” “We The Marines,” “National Parks Adventure” (highest grossing documentary of 2016), “To The Arctic,” “Humpback Whales” and many more. Shaun also leads the business development and partnership team for MacGillivray Freeman, working with destination marketing organizations, Fortune 500 companies, associations and nonprofit organizations tell their stories, from IMAX to the iPhone.