Qantas series is good storytelling not dirty words like ‘branded content’, says Fremantle Media

Fremantle Media has described the term branded content as “dirty words” that undermine the industry and told brands who approach the concept with an advertising mindset to “go and make a corporate video”.

Fremantle Media logo

The production firm said it is attracting increasing interest from marketers keen to explore brand-funded entertainment but revealed most ideas never get off the ground. If there is no genuine story to tell, Fremantle Media will walk away, the company said.

The comments came as Fremantle Media’s general manager of brand partnerships, Zara Curtis, revealed details of a second series of the Qantas-funded Ready for Take Off, which returns to Channel Nine at 7:30pm on October 7.

The first of the fly-on-the-wall series, which goes behind the scenes at the national airline, was broadcast late last year and was voted content marketing strategy of the year at the Mumbrella Awards. The eight-part series attracted an audience of between 440,000 and 690,000 although it peaked at an unusually high 1.19m.

Curtis told Mumbrella the second series will go deeper into the internal operation of the airline with a greater focus on “character-led narrative” and content that will appeal to “aerosexuals”.

She dismissed any notion it would effectively be an advert for Qantas, insisting the airline was fully aware of the need to produce entertainment for a prime time TV audience.

“We have a strong position on branded content and that is there must be great storytelling,” Curtis said. “We don’t even view it as branded content. We view it as making great prime time TV. If we let that slip then we won’t have a show.

“Qantas are brave in the first place to be doing a TV show and from senior management down, they understood that this is not an ad. That was part of the deal to them signing on to this. You can’t have stories in a prime time slot and have it peppered with PR.


Zara Curtis: Prime time TV can’t be peppered with PR

“There are stories around customers, and things go wrong. You can’t tell the good without the bad. It’s about good storytelling and that is the absolute art of the show. We have to appeal to 25-54 year old males and females, so a mix of storytelling has to come through.”

Curtis said the funding of series such as Ready for Takeoff should be largely irrelevant, and even rejected the very use of the phrase ‘branded content’, arguing it does the industry a disservice. Content is either good or bad irrespective of who provided the money, she said.

“For us as a business the words ‘branded content’ is not a term we ever discuss or want to be associated with,” Curtis told Mumbrella.

“We look at it from the view of: are they great stories? Will it engage and connect with audiences? Will it resonate?Ready for Takeoff

“They are all the questions we ask before deciding to work with a brand or not. Branded content is a dirty word and it pulls the industry down. It’s either good content or it isn’t and the funding model doesn’t matter.”

She admitted there were risks for brands in producing TV content but said both Fremantle and Nine walk potential clients through the issues “before we even pick up a camera”.

“We put a lot of work into the upfront on all those mitigated risks. We say this is not about making an advert, that it’s not PR, that you will be in prime time and this is what a prime time audience looks like,” Curtis said. 


Fremantle Media said there is growing interest from marketers to explore brand-funded content but revealed it rejects more projects than it accepts, with a lack of a genuine story often the reason why an idea fails to get off the ground.

“We say ‘no’ more often than we say ‘yes’ for the reason that clients have to have the right ambition and are intent on telling a story that is going to resonate and engage with audiences,” Curtis said.

“We are as interested in our reputation as they are in theirs. If you want us to make an advert, go and see your ad agency, because that’s not what we do.”

The second series of Ready for Takeoff will feature five, one-hour episodes with Curtis explaining it will delve into “factoids” – such as how an aircraft takes off and how a fuel tank is changed – as well as focusing on human interest and character-led stories.

“We found that people wanted content for what Qantas calls ‘aerosexuals’ so we have dialled up the factoid and information side this series,” she said.

Among the stories include the transportation of a kidney for a transplant operation, the journey of the Australian ballet to London and the final flight of a retiring pilot.


Along with the TV series, 90 pieces of additional content have been created for digital use, while two 360 degree videos have been made in partnership with Facebook.

The series has already been sold to 14 overseas markets, with Curtis claiming no one has been worried about who provided the funding.

“That is where we need to get to with this sort of content in this country,” she said. “It’s still a new space and you have to have a brave marketing person, the right network, the right people at the right time and with the right ideas. It takes a lot of stars to align.

“Australia is getting it right and wrong as much as any other market. It’s not easy and you have to have the right partner.

“The fundamental thing is that it’s not advertising. If that’s what you want, go and do a corporate video. That is always our response”.

Mumbrella’s Entertainment Marketing Summit will be held in Sydney at The Chauvel on Thursday, November 10. You can see the program here and to buy tickets click here

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