In the thick of the busy shopping season, we are bombarded with advertising. And yet, audiences have grown increasingly suspicious of traditional advertising that we’ve become experts at tuning it out. So much in fact that leading brands have begun to develop a new form of advertising called branded content featuring high quality productions. Some companies are taking this idea a step further with the branded film series and are developing a series of films around a central idea. It’s a format that opens up new possibilities both for brands looking to connect with customers and for filmmakers looking to reach broader audiences.
The most-liked ads of the year further demonstrate that audience-appropriate humor, an ownable creative concept and a relatable, emotional appeal are effective practices that help the audience connect with ads on a personal level. —Nielsen.com
In The Beginning,
The branded film series began with BMW films in 2001. At the time, BMW was suffering from hefty competition from other luxury brands. They developed a radical new ad campaign that released a series of short films online, called The Hire—featuring the 2001 BMW cars and actor Clive Owen. The Hire centered around Owen’s character—a hired driver for a variety of characters in desperate situations. David Fincher’s production company, Anonymous Content, was responsible for producing the films. They hired feature film directors, writers, and actors to star in, what is essentially, a series of advertisements. Fincher is among a generation of feature auteurs who began their career directing music videos and commercials. He understood how this medium (along with the lucrative funding) could become a vehicle for meaningful storytelling. This successful campaign introduced a younger demographic to BMW and increased their sales by 12% that year. Twelve years later, The Hire is still heralded as one of the best viral campaigns.
Nearly a decade later, Philips TV tried something similar in 2010 with their series, Parallel Lines. This competition commissioned up and coming film directors to create short films to show off their line of televisions in 21:9 aspect ratio in a collaboration with RSA Films (Ridley Scott Associates). This series was inspired by the success of Philips’ viral commercial Carousel which generated millions of hits and positive critical buzz for the company.
More recently, Intel commissioned The Beauty Inside, by director Drake Doremus. The story follows a character named Alex who physically transforms into a completely different person every day. When Alex falls in love, he has trouble explaining his condition and begins to question the true makeup of a person. The audience had an opportunity to play Alex by submitting their own web videos discussing topics that were posted on the The Beauty Inside Facebook page with the resulting segments woven into each episode.
Of course, not all branded series have worked. Ford Motors’ latest attempt, Escape My Life, is an eight part series that centers around the relationship of a wardrobe designer, Skylar, and her Ford Marketing specialist, Barry. When Skylar buys her Ford Escape, she inherits Barry who obnixiously follows her every move to inform her of her new car’s special features. This series falls back on the comfortable notions of commercials past that employed exhausted techniques to lure a dim audience into cheap gags.
The liquor industry is also responding to branded content. Spike Jones’ short I’m Here was funded by Absolut Vodka. When I’m Here was released, it brought Spike Jones fans, an unlikely crowd of hipsters and alternative music lovers, to a vodka website that promoted the short. Absolute has continued courting this demographic by producing a indie music series called Encore! Sessions that has been entirely produced for YouTube distribution. Jameson Whiskey is now producing their short film contest, Jameson First Shot, for the second year with Kevin Spacey’s production company, Trigger Street.
So what does it all mean?
For filmmakers, quite simply it means another avenue for funding your idea. Like the wealthy patrons of Renaissance artists, brands have the resources and the need to connect with the public that make a great creative collaboration possible. So long as the marketing department has the courage to invest.