Branded Content Keeps On Truckin'

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The line between artistic and sponsored content is blurring like never before as brands and creative teams search for new ways to reach an audience. This often leads to entertainment properties with thinly veiled commercial associations. But when Academy Award-nominated producer and director Brett Morgen started his latest project, Drive and Deliver, a branded effort for Navistar's International Trucks, he wanted it to be completely transparent.

"At first there was talk of making it a real film and trying to get it into festivals as a documentary," says Morgen, whose past work includes The Kid Stays in the Picture and On The Ropes. "But I wanted to be up front and proud of its brand associations and basically make a really good, compelling, extended commercial. I just thought that would speak to the intended audience better than trying to pass something off as a straight documentary film."

The film was the brainchild of Fathom Communications' Richard Linnett who acted as agency producer on this project. Linnett says the agency went with Morgen because he "showed a strong passion for the subject and wrote an incredibly compelling brief for his vision of the film."

"What Morgen brings to the table is the ability to go beyond the product and get into who those characters are," says Navistar's vice president of marketing Al Saltiel.

The story follows three truckers at various points in their careers as they crisscross the U.S. talking about why they do what they do. All three are engaging characters, offering up many of the expected attractions to life on the road, namely the sense of freedom and their contribution to the country as a whole. But two other main characters also stand-out – International's new LoneStar truck and the American landscape. Both are shot in such a way as to make each a part of the story, as opposed to simple window dressing. Morgen used two cars and a helicopter for the entire shoot, so as not to lose any potential shots. "We couldn't just stop and re-shoot things," Morgen says. "These guys had deliveries to make so there was no slowing down."

Drive and Deliver premiered in Dallas on August 22 to more than 600 truck drivers and industry folks at the Angelika Film Center.

Another aspect of the campaign is a student film competition to be launched by Navistar later this year. The contest challenges student filmmakers from over 50 universities and film schools around the country to produce their own short films that address themes relevant to the truck-driving industry. Prizes up for grabs include film school tuition, as well as an HD and DV camera. "It's a nice play off the original film idea," says Saltiel. "It will generate interesting new content for our website that we hope people will watch, engage in and comment on."

Navistar has set up a special section for Drive and Deliver on its website, featuring the film trailer and audition footage of the profiled truckers.
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