Short Films as Commercials


Everything Resolves to Connection      In several of my initial conversations with clients recently I’ve noticed a recurring theme around online video. The importance of connecting with the target audience, versus the visual identity of a product, service or brand. With online video, the :30 or :60 second restrictions are obsolete. Time-wise, the only limiting factor is the audience’s attention span, or human engagement. There has been a shift from focusing on showing a product to connecting with your customer in a more meaningful way. A way that he or she will connect with on a deeper level, recognize him/herself in and be inclined to share with friends. What does all this come down to? Simple answer, telling a story. Recently commercials have focused more on the plot and character development rather than product placement. You can tell an incredible story in just 30 seconds, if you’re a good storyteller.

The shifting landscape has opened up opportunity to be creative and connect with a customer in a far more interesting and engaging way (something we focus on at Type G). Attention spans are still short, but if your content is good, and produced properly, you will not need to worry about it being 2 minutes, or 3 minutes, or even, dare I say, 5 minutes. Brands have taken advertising budgets and put human engagement as the top priority for entire campaigns. BMW had a BMW Films campaign several years back, Marni and H&M collaborated on a line and Sofia Coppola directed the motion campaign. Levi’s Go Forth campaign and Southern Comfort’s Whatever Comfortable are uniquely different, though still broadcast examples and both 1:00. Lincoln Motor Company & Vimeo teamed up with 4 independent directors to produce short films that have nothing to do with cars at all. The list goes on and on.

Longer Form is OK, too
The above examples are all commercials by definition. The Superbowl has often been about telling a story in commercial format. However, in recent years major advertisers have used 2:00 minutes to tell an extravagant story. It’s not about how long or how short your video is, it’s about what you put into it. Chrysler’s 2012 Superbowl commercial was 2:00, but it was an engaging story, got a ton of press and was very interesting. Yet still, was more short film than traditional commercial. Absolut Vodka hired Spike Jonze to direct a 30min short film for them. The film doesn’t have any product placement or vodka drinking at all. It’s doesn’t even have humans in it. But there’s still the connection, and people sat at their computers for 30 minutes and watched the entire thing. They blogged about it, they shared it to their friends online.

RedBull has consistently broken the mold on advertising. It was years and years into their dominance before they ever produced a standard TV commercial and they’re a big disruptor in the advertising space via viral videos, athletes and their events. October 2012 marked their biggest and boldest advertising event to date, when Felix Baumgartner jumped from space. Racking up 32M+ views from a 1:30 video. Impressive is an understatement.

Failure Example
A few months ago, I was on-set and the client was very clear that they wanted a few shots (at least) of the actress using the product and showing how to use it. This product was self explanatory and something that nearly everyone uses or has used. It didn’t need an explanation, it didn’t need 4 edits showing it close up and repeating the act. It actually made the story less engaging and took me out of it completely. Why spend precious seconds showing someone what they already know? This is why we get bored. This commercial failed, big time. So much so that we ended up doing an agency cut that didn’t directly show the product at all. Instead, we showed everyday people doing their thing in a way that is relatable. We showed the feeling you get when you use this product. The product was there, and it was noticeable, but it was in the background. This spot did not fail. People connected with it.

Moving Forward with your Brand
Type G Commercial setThrow out all your traditional thinking and start with the basics: connecting with my customer. Think about the best way to do this (or hire a creative agency to help with this), and let the creatives share with you how to best tell this story. If you can do this creatively, and in an interesting manner, the engagement will increase. In other words, the less you ask your audience to do, the more they will watch it. Know that you customer will stay captive if the story is told correctly, trust your instinct. After all, you know your brand, you know your customer. Production value comes into play here. When watching the Super Bowl this year, pay attention to longer commercials and see how much informational an advertiser is able to divulge in a matter of seconds. Also remember how you feel when watching it. Is the advertiser stuffing a product down your thought or sharing a compelling story with you that you actually care about.

Additional Reading/Watching Material
There are countless more examples that I can include, but by now you’ve gotten the point. Here are a list of a few more goodies that you can watch for extra credit.
Dollar Shave Club
Prometheus / TED Talk 2023
Old Spice Muscle Music