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Where did the idea for Johana’s documentary begin?

Alessandro Sciarpelletti: We have been working on enhancing Lavazza’s socially responsible activities and its foundation (Fondazione Lavazza) for several years. There are many varied, valuable activities – the sustainability projects run by the Foundation have helped more than 97,000 coffee farmers all over the world to date.

Every year we choose some of the most interesting examples to become Lavazza’s “hero” stories in an effort to bring to light projects with less visibility and the commitment of the Lavazza brand as a whole.This year we identified the story of Colombian farmers who are converting former coca plantations (the coca plant is used to make cocaine) into coffee fields. This is a great example of The Lavazza Foundation's commitment toward improving the living conditions of thousands of people while respecting the local environment and culture.

In the film, part of Johana's experience comes out in a way that creates tension between her past and the positive outlook for her future. This is a key element of the story.

The cultivation of coffee in Colombia represents a true act of recovery for an entire community. It's a symbol of progress and rebirth, making it the perfect story to tell – with a strong and timely message.


Coffee Defenders is a massive undertaking -- how long did it take to film everything from start to finish?

It took 14 months from the initial presentation to the launch. During the first four months, we evaluated the details of what needed to be done, and then in the following 10, we brought it to life.

It was not easy to shoot in those territories, nor to have the protagonists tell their uncensored stories. A world stuck between guerrillas and narcos is not exactly the most peaceful place.

[Coffee cultivation] is a symbol of progress and rebirth, making it the perfect story to tell – with a strong and timely message.

As such we paid great attention to the selection of the director, Oscar Luiz Navia, and the journalist Alexandra Roca - who guided the story - as well as the local Colombian production company, Ochurus!. We needed credibility in order to deal with certain issues and also a team with courage.


Why did you choose this format?

In recent years, thanks to several series (Narcos, among others) on the topic, the issue of drug trafficking in Colombia has returned to the international limelight. We thought that showing Lavazza’s commitment to transforming farming through the narrative of Joanna and other key protagonists would best express elements of the realities of what it was like to experience these complex times of change in an authentic and powerful way. Moreover, adding Amazon Prime Video to Lavazza's presence within the Amazon ecosystem completed circular partnership within the platform itself.

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Why is Johana’s story important to Lavazza?

Johana Romero’s story is one of resilience, hope and empowerment so she was the perfect person for our film. What she has achieved highlights Lavazza's commitment toward a more sustainable working future, one in line with the UN's global goals on decent work and economic growth.

 In my opinion, every time you look for a mix of entertainment and advertising you are making branded content. S

Like Johana, the other protagonists in the documentary have overcome similar circumstances. All their stories are incredibly interesting and inspirational, making it easy to empathize with them all.


How did you balance Johana’s story with the story of unrest in the region?

Who better than Johana, who has spent her 36 years of life in that area, to explain the changes that have happened in that part of the world from the 80s to today. In the film, part of her experience comes out in a way that creates tension between her past and the positive outlook for her future. This is a key element of the story and perfectly represents Lavazza’s attitude towards the future.


How did you align the brand image with Johana’s story without censoring the atrocities that people experience?

Wow, this is hard to answer! Every piece of branded content is different and choosing the right balance between telling the story and brand presence is an important part of the job.

When a brand wants to communicate through entertainment, it has to follow its own rules.

So, putting it simply, first and foremost the story needs to be interesting for someone.

 I believe that brands should carefully review and identify the values that are actually important to their stakeholders.

Coffee Defenders is a story about the rebirth of an entire community, not about a brand activity. It was important to find the right balance, to tell the story in a way that sheds light on issues and topics that matter. The story isn’t about the conflict in Colombia, but rather about the positive changes in one region, quite a few of them made possible because of Lavazza’s localized support.

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How can brands approach social justice issues with their content in an authentic and progressive way?

A brand has to find its role in the causes in which it participates. I believe that brands should carefully review and identify the values that are actually important to their stakeholders. You have to be credible with what you say. And then you have to talk about it in a relevant way for your audience. There is nothing worse than a brand that speaks without credibility.

When a brand wants to communicate through entertainment, it has to follow its own rules.

What can agencies do to support constructive, justice-oriented creativity?

Agencies play a key role in this. First, on a strategic side, agencies set the terms of crafting the brand's material matrix with more contemporary values - values like inclusiveness and sustainability are incredibly relevant especially if your goal is to rejuvenate your targeting. Second, the role of creativity is crucial in finding a way to deliver these values to the target audience.


Why is branded content a good vehicle for stories like Johana’s? 

This question opens up another one about the meaning of “branded content.” In my opinion, every time you look for a mix of entertainment and advertising you are making branded content. So it could be a calendar, a movie, a music track – the options are endless. In this case, a docufilm was the perfect vehicle to tell Johana’s story.

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