Inside Branded Content: How Shutterstock Won The Hunger Games

Twice a month, we want to talk to brands telling great stories to find out how they did it. Next up: Shutterstock’s Tour of the 12 Districts of Panem.

You wouldn’t expect a stock photo site to be a masterful creator of original content. But Shutterstock, home to over 30 million images and videos, has emerged as one of the best brand publishers on the web.

Shutterstock’s blog is filled with daily how-tos, guest posts from influencers like Gary Vaynerchuk, and “zeitgeisty” creative projects. Its in the latter category that Shutterstock really shines. Game of Brands, Shutterstock’s epic imagination of the families of Westeros as modern corporations, was shared over 2,000 times. The blog’s “Mod Men” post reimagined Mad Men through a 21st-century lens and received 520 pins and was shared via Mashable over 8,000 times. But their latest project might be their best yet.

We talked to Copywriter Doug Levy to get an inside peek at Shutterstock’s video tour of The Hunger Games’ 12 Districts of Panem, released just in time for the second movie in the Hunger Games series. According to Levy, they wanted the campaign to have international reach, good timing, and high engagement rates. The Hunger Games provided the storytelling framework, but the rest was up to them.


For “12 Districts to Die For: A Journey Through the World of Hunger Games,” the Shutterstock team wrote 12 scripts with district-specific information from the books and movie. Then, they matched the scripts with 1.3 million clips of Shutterstock footage, spliced together to create twelve 15-second Instagram videos. Each video took the form of a dynamic travel brochure, making the districts look like a delightful destinations — with deservedly creepy undertones.

“We wanted to add an insidery awareness of the world of the Hunger Games,” Levy said. “So there are some funny or ironic comments on what you’re seeing as you’re touring through the different districts.”

It was hard to paint a complete picture of a district in just 15 seconds, but ultimately, Levy came to appreciate the constraints of the platform. “If we had had a minute or more we would have used up all that time,” Levy said. “But the average viewers wouldn’t have made it through that many clips.” The videos were also designed to fit Instagram’s square format.

From ideation to published product, “12 Districts to Die For”took about three months. “It was long-brewing and then we sprinted on it,” Levy explained. The sprint–during which an editor worked on the project full-time–lasted about a month. “Shutterstock recognizes that these kinds of projects have a life that’s worth investing in,” Footage Content Producer Derrick Rhodes said.

On Shutterstock’s blog, viewers can see the Shutterstock clips that were used to create the tour, showcasing how Shutterstock ‘dog-fooded’ it to create the project, using their platform just like any client would to create great content.

“We’re showing how you can take these clips that were shot for different reasons and intentions and build a whole world out of them,” Rhodes said.

The result is more enticing than any how-to video or traditional ad. In addition to extensive press, Rhodes and Levy say they’ve gotten positive reactions from diehard Hunger Games fans. “People who are invested in that fictional world feel like we’ve captured it,” Rhodes said. Plus, potential new collaborators have been flocking to Shutterstock’s content team, providing an additional business boost. They already work with other brands like Sony and Facebook.

Ultimately, though, it’s all about inspiring content creators.

“We want everything we put out to be inspiring and empowering.”

Check out the 12 clips below.

What’s the deal with the Content Strategist? It’s something we created at Contently because we believe in a world where marketing is helpful, and businesses grow by telling stories that people love. Take advantage of our tools and talent and come build that world with us.

Image by Mosman Library /

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