Otto Bell began his media career in the WPP fellowship program which spanned three years in three different jobs in three different countries, giving him a borderless view of the media landscape. Now as Vice President and Group Creative Director, Courageous, his responsibility is to create and manage a brand-building studio that is the pipeline for branded content across CNN, HLN and Great Big Story. This enormous effort, with forty projects completed since its official launch in June 2015 is, according to Bell, “growing at a fierce pace.”
Located in Union Square in lower Manhattan, the Courageous enterprise currently boasts twenty full time employees from all media sectors and disciplines and a 12,000 square foot studio. “We have 4K cameras, drones and cranes to create beautiful branded content,” explains Bell (pictured at top). “Employees with editorial backgrounds, Emmy- and Morrow-winning journalists from companies like Mashable and VICE, video producers, documentarians, storytellers, web designers and developers, etc, all in-house. We are fully self-sufficient and never outsource.” Courageous has hit an inflection point, Bell reports, to air fourteen programs currently in production from around the world. “And,” he adds, “We are currently shooting aerial VR in Pennsylvania.” Their productions are designed to be format agnostic with the ability to reside comfortably across any platform and media type. The question, Bell says, becomes, “What is the right channel for the content we create? We find the unexplored angle for an advertiser’s traditional media buy.”
As part of its branded content effort, Courageous is producing a one-day event called Human By Design on August 3, 2016 at the Paley Center for Media in conjunction with client Square Enix to support the release of their video game Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. “This video game is set thirteen years into the future but these are present tense problems,” says Bell. “There is human augmentation and mankind becomes divided between those who are augmented and improved with technology and others who are in an unadulterated state. Conflict ensues. These issues are bubbling up today.”
This event brings together leading minds to explore the current state of human augmentation, trying to answer the questions of how to police this brave new world, how technology is shaping the human condition and what does it mean to be human. The event is divided into three panels. Panel one is a discussion of whether augmentation is a human right. Panel two reviews selective versus therapeutic augmentation -- that which corrects a disease (like the insertion of a microchip for Parkinson’s disease) or condition (like being able to walk while paralyzed) as compared to a technological augmentation for cosmetic purposes only. Panel three, titled “The Future of the Far Far Next,” will delve into the future of human augmentation and how we will get there. One of the results of this conference will be to “publish a code of ethics, independent of the game and of CNN from this brain trust of luminaries,” Bell explains.
For Jon Grant, Senior Manager, Product Marketing at Square Enix, “Creating Human by Design in conjunction with CNN’s Courageous studio felt like the perfect fit for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Video games stretch the imagination and lead people to think outside the box -- a quality shared with those leading the bionics industry. This conference is a big step for everyone involved as we broaden the overall awareness of bionics for the science, sci-fi and Deus Ex fans alike.”
As opposed to the uncertain, somewhat pessimistic future of humans vs technically augmented bots, the future for Courageous looks bright. “We approach branded content with a compass and not a map,” says Bell, who adding, “and we will succeed as long as the work we do meets our clients’ objectives with surprising, additive ways with their audiences. We want to do more to add to the public conversation as well as the marketing objectives of the client. Branded content can be great content.”
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