Q&A: CNN's Courageous Approach to Branded Content

13 Jul 2016 - By TW Staff

Next month, CNN's brand studio Courageous will host Human by Design, a first-of-its-kind conference exploring the innovation, ideas and issues around human augmentation technologies. We spoke with VP and Group Creative Director Otto Bell about the studio's distinct point-of-view and unique approach to branded content.

(Otto Bell, VP & Group Creative Director, Courageous)

How would you describe the Courageous mission, and what is the studio’s approach to humanizing branded content?

Your word “humanizing” is key to our mission, because at heart we are a non-fiction studio focused on telling true stories about real people. Through this authentic treatment of commercial objectives, we produce branded content that’s also great content.

What innovations have impressed you the most since Courageous launched?

Courageous turned one in June. In our first year, we grew to 20 people and produced 40 client projects. This success was undoubtedly fuelled by the rollout of Turner Native Plus, which expands the power of native advertising to television, and the establishment of Launchpad, our social optimization tool. Both of those innovative solutions have been powerful amplifiers of our custom work.

How do the resources and reputation of CNN help drive the conversation around technology and innovation?

Those three letters are a blessing and a responsibility in any conversation, not just tech and innovation. I feel like audience consideration is now a game measured in milliseconds; so while CNN’s reputation can “get you in the room,” it’s then on Courageous to repay that trust with high-quality, additive storytelling.

How did the focus on human augmentation come about? How does it fit in with the Courageous mission?

The client (videogame manufacturer Square Enix) decided the general theme, because their game is set 13 years from now, in a world divided by human augmentation and unregulated technological advancement.

But the premise was perfect for us. After a bit of journalistic digging, the Courageous team realized these were not the problems of tomorrow: a lot of the issues and societal tensions that the game imagines are already surfacing today. What’s more, we couldn’t find much commentary on the subject – there was a bit of vacuum – so we also liked the idea wading into under-explored territory.

What areas of thought leadership do you see Courageous exploring next?

Our preference will always be to break new ground with a compass and not a map. For instance, in production right now we’ve got a beer brand touching on immigration and a show that blends food with macroeconomics – there’s no way to script ideas like that in advance! I think as long as we’re helping our clients contribute in surprising and memorable ways, we’ll be on the right track.

Human by Design will take place on August 3 at the Paley Center for Media in New York City. Click here for more information on attendance options and the conference agenda.