The conversation about long form content is a totally different language altogether.
It is fair to say most Malaysian marketers have yet to grasp the idea of having their brand in a movie, TV series or animated story.
… The world has changed. Entertainment is the new oil…
Many have flirted with the thought but eventually resigned to starring their brands in commercial breaks between shows instead. They side-step bigger fame for ads and branded content that skim the surface of what is possible.
I am talking about serious creative work, long form content that hits the screens where real audiences choose to be. Instead of force-feeding them commercial drivel that is long past its due date.
Malaysian brands understand that greatness comes with being a brand that people love and cherish as part of their lives.
But they are also devilish about having all their USPs and product benefits upfront wherever and whenever possible; an approach that does not work when building real connections.
There are techniques brands can deploy in an attention-deficit environment while scripting the right brand values without interrupting people’s lives.
The world has changed. Entertainment is the new oil.
And it may be all you need to supplant your approach to marketing.
In fact, sometime it is the challenger brands that understand this better!
… Silky Girl shot to No 1 in Malaysia in sales in the massmarket colour cosmetics in less than three years from launch…
Remember Silky Girl?
The brand got involved in helping finance and promote the late Yasmin Ahmad’s Mukhsin, and subsequent smart tie-ins with the movie is reaping dividends till this day. Silky Girl shot to No 1 in Malaysia in sales in the mass-market colour cosmetics in less than three years from launch.
Like all great investments, long form content is a serious business.
In this exclusive, we talk to the founders of IRON HILL MEDIA (IHM), seasoned players in the commercial branding business, who are offering Malaysian brands a shot at real fame.
… IHM develops stories in the form of TV series and full length feature films for the local and global market…
IHM develops stories in the form of TV series and full length feature films for the local and global market. They are currently in the thick of several projects at various stages of development.
IHM believes it is time your brand deserves enduring fame. We sat down with Sheen Singh, President of IHM and CEO Michael Chen at their office in KL to find out more about what they are doing…
Tell us about yourselves…
SHEEN: I have been in the advertising film production business for over 30 years. Old-timers would recognise me from my previous company, Axis Films. I then moved on to start Passion Pictures in the year 2000. What followed was the Jakarta office in 2005 and then Bangkok in 2012.
Passion pioneered the producer-led production company approach for TVC production in Malaysia. Clients are given the freedom to work with any preferred film director and build a longstanding relationship with producers who would learn about the client’s specific needs and objectives. I have brought this approach to all my companies and it has been our success formula.
MICHAEL: While studying law, I started out as an actor in theatre in the early 2000’s. By the time I graduated, I jumped into TV production, wanting to learn what goes on behind the camera as much as I wanted to be in front of the camera. I did everything from being a Production Assistant, Assistant Director and Assistant Producer for several TV productions back to back.
I transitioned to being a Marketer and Event Organiser for a short spell, before becoming a Producer with my first indie feature film ‘CUAK’ (2014).
I then spent 5 years producing hundreds of short form branded content via RTV Malaysia, a department I started for Nuffnang Malaysia.
Why Iron Hill?
SHEEN: The name Iron Hill Media is a homage to my birthplace, Bukit Besi, an iron-mining town near Dungun in Terengganu. I thought it was a fitting and somewhat grand name. The steam engine train that comes out of the tunnel, bearing iron ore destined for Japan in our logo, is a vivid memory of mine as a 6-year old kampung boy.
From steam to stream?
SHEEN: It’s the new ride… with the advent of streaming (OTT) channels taking over the world I saw an opportunity in long form storytelling with clever brand integration that was not there before.
In our multiracial country, there is no shortages of great stories to tell and with our ability to produce high quality content, I felt we can create something truly great. However, I needed the right partner to run IHM and finally after two years… (points to Michael) I found this guy!
… In our multiracial country, there is no shortages of great stories to tell and with our ability to produce high quality content, I felt we can create something truly great…
MICHAEL: For me to be given the opportunity to start a company with the likes of Sheen is a defining moment. For the first time in my creative life, I get to focus purely on the development of an (creative) idea and not have to worry about production values because my partners at Passion Pictures can guarantee the final product is flawless.
What’s that process been like so far?
MICHAEL: While I’m used to dreaming up ideas, developing decks, proposals and pitches for funding, I’ve personally not had the chance to focus purely on long form content. Being able to concentrate 100% on development has allowed me to go deeper into the process. Beyond just doing a 10 slide deck or writing 1-pager treatments.
What is on your slate?
MICHAEL: We have completed a full pitch bible for a world class animated series, including a finalised 2-minute teaser, key character and environment designs, a fleshed out pilot episode and detailed episodic breakdowns for the full first season.
We are currently courting Netflix and Amazon Prime on this.
We are also in the final stages of a writers room for a murder mystery premium series that has been greenlit by Astro Shaw.
We have been selected by FINAS to produce a horror movie.This is literally in the works right now. Asian horror does especially well in local and global markets.
We now have a varied slate that includes a police thriller and a dramatic retelling of the first English educational Malaysian TV program in the 80’s – both of which are based on the little known exploits of real Malaysian icons.
We also have a war drama mini-series based on the communist aggression in Borneo during the 60’s.
Finally, we have a revenge action series told against the backdrop of the Malaysian Hungry Ghost Festival and a gangster family drama series set in the small settlements of our country.
All of these ideas have strong local sensibilities but are steeped in universal storytelling elements that will enable the content to seek a global audience as well.
What makes you guys different?
SHEEN: We will produce authentic Malaysian stories with high production values that can be enjoyed primarily by a local audience and if we are lucky, a global audience too. Plus our connection to Passion in making high end commercials over the last 20 years is a huge point of difference when it comes to production.
MICHAEL: We are excited about long form content, and we can show you why, and how this will elevate brands from the current routes they take. We create and also build upon ideas to see the fit in the plot of things.
Why do you think brands in Malaysia haven’t really done this?
MICHAEL: In the Malaysian landscape, brand involvement in long form content almost always comes as an afterthought or with simplistic product placement.
But look at shows like ‘Stranger Things’, where brand placements are a lot more intelligently infused to create a nostalgic and emotional connection. Hopefully, we find the right brands who see the value in investing into this sort of engaging long form branded content.
SHEEN: One of the things we plan to do is to talk to brands based on our extensive commercial background and invite the brands to take a more prevalent role in the development of content that we embark on. Creating content that inspire more meaningful connections for their brands can only do wonders for them.
Fame is a given.
MICHAEL: In the more mature entertainment marketplaces, there are independent companies that do only this, connecting brands with content in the early development stages. Take for example the successful YA (Young Adults) film, ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’.
Subway is featured quite prominently but not in an overtly intrusive way, as the best friend character in the film was written to have an undying obsession with their sandwiches.
At IHM, we figure out how a brand can be seamlessly weaved into a story that we are developing and we can go deeper by crafting other related commercial content too.
Do you date marketers?
MICHAEL: You mean like a dream date? Hahahaha, drop us a line at [email protected] and we’re game to meet and pitch the titles on our current slate. Our website www.ironhillmedia.tv has more.