What kind of content can a brand get for $60,000? A single Instagram post from an influencer with more than a million followers can cost at least $10,000. A single, one-third page ad in Esquire, according to its rate card, costs $71, 805.
“Culture” might be the buzziest aspirational buzzword in marketing and advertising in recent years, with a lot of talk about creating culture, becoming a part of culture, tapping into culture. . . . In that vein, a new partnership between the eyecare retailer Warby Parker and The Black List, a screenwriting platform best known for its annual ranking of the best unproduced screenplays, is announcing the Writer’s Vision Grant, which will award $20,000 each to one writer in film, TV, and theater to pursue their chosen project. The concept pushes the notion that branded content can take many forms and doesn’t have to cost as much as a Super Bowl ad, a print-magazine ad, or even a few popular Instagram posts.
The Black List CEO Franklin Leonard says that the two companies share a lot of values; and Warby Parker has always had a connection to writers in some way, from its Kerouac-inspired name to selling books in its retail stores. “What’s interesting,” says Leonard, “is looking at Warby as a case study here: They’re going to spend $60,000 to be distributed in $20,000 chunks to three writers. What else could they realistically do with that $60K to communicate what they stand for as a company to the world and to various sub-communities within their target audience?”
In a statement to Fast Company, Warby Parker cofounder and co-CEO Neil Blumenthal said that his organization “bolsters the screenwriter’s role in the film community and provides exposure for undiscovered scripts and writers,” citing its ongoing commitment to support writers in every field. “Taking that one step further, this grant will benefit writers directly, providing them with funding to help develop their own projects,” Blumenthal said.
How it will work: Anyone with a script currently on The Black List platform can opt in for free. At the end of the opt-in period, members will look at all of the data associated with the scripts, and will show Warby Parker the 10 or 15 they deem the strongest, from which to pick the winners. There aren’t any real content parameters, and the writers will maintain ownership over their work. “[Warby Parker] wanted to see some fantastic, original ideas, and just wanted to have light guardrails, so the writers and work are in line with their company,” says Megan Halpern, The Black List’s VP of programs, partnerships, and production. “It would be pretty off-brand to have an incredibly brutal slasher-horror film come out of this program! It’s less about guiding the work, and more just something that’s a good fit for them.”
It’s not the first time the two companies have worked together, with Warby Parker hosted a reading series with The Black List before the pandemic hit. The Black List has worked with other brands too, such as Google and Hornitos, on similar funding contests. Leonard says that they try to keep any funding partnership above $10,000 to make it worth any writer’s time; and that if a brand wants ownership, it has to pay writers the Writers Guild of America’s minimum, regardless if the selected writers are WGA members or not.
As a marketing investment, it’s a grassroots approach to branded content. “Say that one of those three writers, a decade from now, becomes Liz Meriwether, Lupita Nyong’o, or Jeremy O. Harris?” says Leonard. “They’re going to remember that, early in their career, one of the reasons they believed in themselves—and were ambitious—was ‘because Warby Parker cut me a check.'”