“Tell Powerful Stories” - A conversation with Roar Studios ECD Andre Howson

Roar Studios
May 13, 2021

Roar Studios has come a long way; growing from a small team of passionate storytellers to a digital content production powerhouse, working with some of Sri Lanka’s leading brands and impact organizations to produce compelling digital content. Here, we catch up with Andre Howson, Executive Creative Director at Roar Studios, on why branded content and a focus on positive socio-economic impact are vital for brands, and what we have lined up for the next quarter.

Andre Howson
Executive Creative Director, Roar Studios

Andre, you’ve been at Roar Studios since its inception. How do you think it has evolved over the last four years?

As with any new company, especially those involved in the fast-moving digital landscape, it takes a bit of time to find your sea legs. Luckily, most of us who were in Roar Studios when it started already had quite a bit of experience already, working on organic content. So, for the last four years, it’s been a process of taking what we already do really well, which is tell good stories, and apply that to a brand and organizational context. We’ve gotten really good at finding these stories that connect with audiences, so what we are ramping up is technical excellence; from the lighting, to the camera work and equipment, to the editing, and to exploring different formats of storytelling. The digital game is like surfing in a way. Stay in one place too long and you get dumped on the beach. So we are constantly chasing bigger waves, learning new things, and evolving. 

In the process, we’ve gone from a really chilled work environment, where one can take a break mid-day to go get a tattoo, to being able to juggle 3 shoots in as many locations in a single day. We still have fun though, with game nights, a punching bag on the rooftop, and an obsession with indoor cacti; while also managing to have fun on our shoots, whether it is dangling from a tree for that perfect shot, to floating on a boat through a herd of water buffalo for aesthetic B-roll. 

Why does branded content work for clients and what are some instances it has been really successful?

Branded content done correctly is a very powerful tool. A common misconception is that branded content is basically a long form advertisement. If you really want to market a product with its features and its price, you can buy a billboard, or a banner ad. But ads are a dime a dozen and flood people’s attention so much that they are ignored almost as a reflex. But who are you as a brand? Where did you come from? What are the things that interest you? If your brand were a person, would that be a person you’d want to be friends with? These are the narratives that often go unaddressed because they are not KPI friendly. This is where branded content comes in. It helps express part of your brand’s personality. Perhaps your company has a particular interest in the environment and aims to plant 10,000 trees by the end of the year. You can tell the story of this mission of yours and you can spread this message using branded content, and suddenly, the audience knows a big part of your brand personality.

One example we had a lot of fun with was our work with Tokyo Cement. Partnering with them, we produced a series called Island Blueprints that explores great design and beautiful spaces conceptualized and created by Sri Lankan architects. These episodes highlight Tokyo Cement’s commitment to architecture and aesthetics, as well as featuring local design tradition to an international audience. 

Another exciting project was the one we did for the German Embassy in Sri Lanka. The German Federal Foreign Office has supported the demining of former warzones in the North, and we went over there to see the important work being done and how the project has helped people in the community. 

The Sunera Story was a particularly heartwarming video we worked on. The Sunera Foundation was built to help people living with disabilities through the use of theatre and the arts, and we brought the beautiful pieces and performances the group created to a larger audience in Sri Lanka. 

We’ve seen an increase in the demand for video projects over the last two years but it’s not always easy to get them right for a digital audience. What are some key things a brand should keep in mind when producing a video for their social media?

The first thing to keep in mind is that no one is obligated to watch your video. It’s an attention game, and you are competing with cute cat videos and Tik Tok dances. You’ll almost always lose out to the felines. People will click on your video if it is engaging, and they will watch the whole thing if it gives them something in return. If the video informs your audience, if it gives them a perspective they haven’t had before, or if it presents a case in a way that is engaging, then you’ll have an audience. The basic rule of storytelling is that the audience has to be at a different place at the end of the story than they were at the beginning. A story (a video in this case) has to move its audience to be successful. 

For example, we produce rich format videos and documentary-style short videos. The rich format videos mix voice overs, graphics, animations and sourced footage to provide information in the best way possible - entertaining, informative, and fast-paced - the perfect way to engage with an internet audience. Documentary videos focus on deep storytelling using carefully shot footage in an intimate style and setting. This really draws the audience deep into the story being told, and allows them to connect on an emotional level. 

One of our key focuses this year has been to work closely with brands on impact storytelling and we have seen it working well for many of our clients, from local nongovernmental organizations to larger multinational corporations. Do you think this is an important strategy for brands today and why?

It is a pretty important strategy since it is ahead of the content curve in that it focuses on what a brand does socially as opposed to just what it makes. Ethics and social responsibility are high on the list of what people look for when they patronize brands. Do you care about more than your bottom line? Is the environment important to you? Are people important to you? This is why impact storytelling is so important, because your audience sees what is important to you and what kind of positive impact you are making in the world. 

Constructive journalism is part of our organizational DNA, so we enjoy working with brands to raise awareness on key issues. We are passionate about the work we do and with making the world a better place, so we love working with brands that emulate this.  

Your team has been working on a few video series lately, which is pretty exciting and new territory for us. Can you tell us more?

We’ve been working on longer form documentaries, which we were pretty excited about. One project which we worked with the Good Life Accelerator on looks at companies in Sri Lanka that have sustainable business models that benefit the environment and the people who are part of their supply chain. It was great meeting these socially minded entrepreneurs and seeing the great work they do. 

Another favourite was a documentary on Sri Lankan coffee. For one, who doesn’t like coffee? It was also an enlightening experience digging into the Sri Lankan coffee industry, which is much older than we think, as well as meeting these new companies making waves with Sri Lankan speciality coffee. 

We are also working on a much bigger secret project which we’ll reveal to you soon. Fingers crossed. 

Over the last two years, Roar Studios has increasingly partnered with for-profit and non-profit organizations to produce short documentaries, video series, articles and infographics that draw attention to important local issues, inform our discerning audiences and encourage them to act. Interested in collaborating with us on purpose-driven content? Drop us an email on studios@roar.global and we will get in touch with you. 

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