The Best Branded Documentaries

Updated on February 12, 2020.

Documentary. Just the sound of this word used to make people yawn. In the past, documentaries were widely considered to be elitist and overly artistic. Hours long, these videos went in depth into the nitty-gritty details of broad, heavy topics. Now, however, marketers have begun to take advantage of documentary’s unique and insightful way to tell authentic stories. Introducing: the branded documentary.

 As the internet, smartphones, and social media have proliferated, this new format of documentary has evolved and conquered the market. Branded-docs continue documentaries’ authentic form of expression, using an artistic storytelling approach to resonate with their audience. However, by sticking to stories that are short and honest, brands have successfully adapted the documentary style to tell customer’s stories and inspire customer loyalty.

Branded documentary has been adopted by many brands such as Apple, L’Oréal and Vans, as a significant part of their content marketing. Here, we’ll break down some other successful approaches to branded documentary strategy.


Patagonia – aligning brand message with the consumer

Do you have the urge to buy dozens of clothes when you shopping, or do you usually only get one piece after careful consideration? For Patagonia customers, it’s absolutely the latter. Knowing this, Patagonia, the outdoor gear and clothing brand, made a video documentary marketing campaign that highlighted the stories of those resourceful customers. This short, branded documentary allowed their own customers to explain how they cherished their Patagonia gear throughout years of rugged adventures.

88% of customers say they trust online reviews as much as individual recommendations. That’s why this branded doc works – Patagonia allows their customers be their brand ambassadors. By focusing on the real accounts of the reuse of their products, the outdoor brand conveys a believable message of durability through powerful customer testimonial. It’s obvious that Patagonia knows their typical customer cares about minimizing their eco-footprint by buying quality products. The branded doc allowed Patagonia to take confident steps to align their brand message with the values of their customers.

Another strategic step Patagonia took was to release the video right before Black Friday. This continues to push the brand towards sustainability and quality, as Patagonia actively encourages its customers to celebrate the things they already have, instead of participating in unnecessary over-consumption.

Make-A-Wish Foundation – exhibiting the impact on your customers

Branded documentary can be like virtual reality gear. It takes the audience right into the story, helping the viewer feel the same emotions as the main character. Make-A-Wish foundation and Green Buzz uses this characteristic to its advantage when telling the story of Nitin, and his wish to become a Washington Wizard for the Day.

In this branded documentary, the audience is brought along for the wish experience that Make-A-Wish tailored to Nitin’s dream. They get to to see, first-hand, every exciting moment Nitin feels during his dream come true. After hearing the teenager explain the tough journey his illness put him through, the viewer is left with no questions that Make-A-Wish is doing a great service for someone who truly deserves it. In the end, the impact Make-A-Wish has on Nitin is clear– it not only brings him happiness, but it also provides a sense of hope to him and his family.

By showing the impact their mission has on its clients, Make-A-Wish foundation makes the audience believes in its mission, and encourages them to use their power to change the world. The branded-documentary is a great success. At the gala, Make-A-Wish raised $700,000, compared to $420,000 the previous year.

Starbucks – Instantly Relatable

There seems to be a Starbucks on every street corner in every city in the world. How does a brand so big maintain its close relationship with its millions of customers? By elevating the customer story with a branded documentary!

“Meet me at Starbucks” gives a glimpse into the activities of coffee shop regulars, from the typical first date to a scrapbooking club meeting. It clearly demonstrates how Starbucks is shaped by its own community of consumers. That’s the key: rather than focusing on its products, the story is customer-centric and shows Starbucks patrons personalizing the coffee shop’s atmosphere.

Branded documentaries grant the perfect opportunity to remind customers what brand interaction really means. Watching the stories of other customers unlocks memories of the viewer’s own first date, tearful meetup, or other special moment that may have taken place at a Starbucks. The branded doc lets them connect with people just like them. That makes “Meet me at Starbucks” instantly relatable to any Starbucks customer. This video was a hit with their brand fans, racking up more than 170,000 views on Youtube, including media coverage such as AdWeek, AdAge, and Business Insider.

Branded documentary is an excellent content marketing strategy to connect your customers to each other, solidifying loyalty and brand excitement. Remember: In the end, your brand is built by the people who use it. Never underestimate the power of a customer story.

Emily Herman contributed to this post.