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2 Key Lessons for Brands from Sundance Film Festival

Sundance film festival four fin

“To change things we have to feel things”

I heard this quote for the first time on a business training call. The topic was actually about deeply understanding your business financial metrics, and yet, it hit me like a brick for so many other reasons. I heard it at the perfect time. It was at a point where my agency was becoming more structured. We were building strategies for ourselves and our clients that were tactical, clear and based on logic. These were all good things. But the recipe was becoming imbalanced and I felt we were suffocating the true nature of our work. We deal in inspiration. Our main aim is to get audiences to feel things.

I just got back from Sundance 2024, my 6th Sundance since I started going in 2017.

Every year, I come home inspired.
Every year, I feel things.

And of course, there’s a great deal of overlap between the work we see at Sundance, films meant to inspire audiences, and the work we do at Four Fin, brands meant to inspire audiences. Different mediums. Different audiences. Same goal.

When I dissect the Sundance Films that truly moved me, whether fiction or documentary, they tend to have two things in common:

  1. They are unexpected
  2. They are personal

Take people some place they wouldn’t expect

Unexpected goes without saying. To make something unexpected is an obvious goal for anyone in a creative field who is pushing for work that stands out. At Sundance, courageous indie filmmakers take you somewhere unexpected. Some bring you to a human existence less known, but very real. Some reach for the edges of reality, blowing up boundaries to see just how far they can stretch your imagination. With branding, our version of the unexpected is tethered to the existing equities in the hearts and minds of our audiences. We don’t blow up boundaries, we nudge them. How much we nudge is often tied to the comfort level of an ecosystem or company.

The second takeaway is less obvious.

Make your brand feel like a real character

The best films develop characters beyond a surface level. These characters are the center of the story being told. Writers and directors dive into those characters, giving you an emotional connection to them, whether positive or negative. They allow you an intimacy with the characters that makes you feel like you’ve known them far longer than 90 minutes.

Your brand is a character.

Unfortunately, we don’t often get 90 minutes of undivided attention from our audiences, and developing your brand’s character isn’t a one-way narrative. It’s a dance between you and the audience, a series of interactions, small moments, glances, warmth, aha moments. The character of your brand is built over time through many moments that add up. 

So, how does your brand walk and talk? 

What is its character? Its sense of humor?

How does your brand deliver the unexpected, even if occasionally? 

Want to pick our brains about easy things your brand can do to stand out and make people feel? 

Come to Office Hours! Free brand advice from experts in the time it takes to eat lunch. 

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We care deeply about sustainability branding, graphic design, industry trends, company culture, and more. Dive into the minds of our team on the Four Fin blog, The Deep End.

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Carly DeMento

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Janelle Monae
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Evan Shulman

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Fun-loving & versatile
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  • Proud 90’s U.S. Space Camp Graduate where I got as close as I was gonna get to my kid aspirations of being an astronaut. Now super happy to be an Earthonaut (like you).
  • For fun I read wikipedia articles, watch youtube explainers, and look up the etymology of words, often leading to waaayyyy too many tabs open in my browser.
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