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Are Advertisements Becoming Their Own Legitimate Short Film Format?

12.26.12 @ 8:03PM Tags : , , , , ,

Advertisements have come a long way in the past decade or so — even in the last 5 years. More and more content has gone from strictly showing off a brand, to actually telling a story and moving an audience. Since the internet attention span can be lower than any other medium, the video content that typically succeeds is short and to the point, and what format utilizes its time better than the commercial? Watching a Maiyet ad directed by Cary Fukunaga, I was reminded of all the great ads recently that have done more than sell a brand, they’ve moved you in a way that would seem impossible on the surface. Click through to check out some commercials that truly take the format in a different direction.

Some of you may be a bit cynical about the fact that many of these are from big corporations trying to sell products we may not want or even really need, but most of the filmmakers behind the ads are simply trying to tell a story, and I think they are more effective when viewed in that light. Some of these more closely match my personal taste, but there are plenty of others that tell just as legitimate stories — though I think there is something particularly cinematic about these:

Sleepwalking in the Rift a film directed by Cary Fukunaga for Maiyet:

These Levi’s “Go Forth” Ads don’t quite tell a story, but there is something epic about them that really stands out from other ads:

This one was also directed by Cary Fukunaga:

Chrysler Super Bowl Commercials:

Google Chrome: “Jess Time”

Dick’s Sporting Goods: “The Glove”

This is not even remotely close to a complete list in any way, so if you have any you want to add, feel free to do so below. There is a bit of an American bias in a few, but I think any of them could stand in for any other part of the world and they could still be as powerful. As advertising continues to grow to due online videos, there are going to be more and more ads vying for your attention, and one of the ways they’ll try to do that is by pulling a bit of a bait and switch by pretending to be something they’re not. That’s not to say they aren’t actually emotionally moving, but companies are making them to sell a product. Either way, I’m all for subliminally being sold a product or service over someone shoving something in my face.

We’ll see how the landscape changes, but I have a feeling that the boundaries between short films and advertisements will be blurred even more as funding sources dry up at the higher end because of fierce competition, and companies need more videos for the growing web advertising segment. One thing is clear, you can’t really make a living off short films, but there are all sorts of possibilities as far as short ads or commercials are concerned, and they may even be a better calling card for a feature film than any short you can make.

What do you guys think? While they definitely won’t replace short films, do you think we’ll see the format continue to change? What are some of your favorites that push the boundaries?


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  • Ads have always been good – but now with the web you can have more than 60 seconds to tell a story. There are a ton of interesting inspiring commercials. And there a ton that suck! Thanks for posting this.

  • Derek Berndt on 12.26.12 @ 8:26PM

    No matter what the medium or what you’re selling, it’s all about connecting with your audience. Fortunately for advertisers these days, people are more willing to watch high-quality, meaningful videos for longer periods of time (more than 60 seconds) even if it is a commercial. The important thing for advertisers to remember as they develop content is that they’re truthful and genuine.

    Due to advances in technology and the resulting decline in production and distribution costs, I foresee even longer form videos being produced by advertisers.

    As for another good video…Google’s Parisian Love ad –

    • The Parisian one is amazing. Just think – they told a complete love story through web search – and then let us fill in the details in our mind! Really moving stuff, and the music and sound design made it that much more engaging and made the images that much clearer in my mind.

    • ThunderBolt on 12.26.12 @ 10:55PM

      Totally agree. Being in San Francisco and seeing Levi’s come back to life after having extreme financial issues is wonderful. Their Americana messaging is spot on. Combining the roots and core of company and product to what we have experienced in economic downturn is story telling at it’s best. It connects everyone, it visual poetry, it’s survival, it’s strategic, It’s perfection. Can anyone recall important moments in their life that didn’t have a pair of 501′s included?

  • Great post! I’m glad brands are recognizing that fewer people online are going to seek out or respond to content designed for captive audiences. You actually have to make content that is worth discovering and sharing.

  • Glad such ads are returning. When i started in the film industry way back in the 70′s all the ads seemed to be little films where the likes of Al Parker, Hugh Hudson and the Scott Bros started. remember Cadbury’s Smash Martians, PG Tips The Chimps, Heineken Victor Borge series; one of which Medusea never saw the light of day and the other, Nero was banned. Each were mini stories and in many ways i remember them as ground breaking days of film making especially seeing the audience clap and cheer when they came on in the cinema.

    • Totally agree. I worked on some di-no-mite spots during the ’70s. Some clever and funny stuff.

  • I saw this ad in my Spanish class when I was studying in Barcelona last semester. I loved how, even though you may not know the language, you can totally understand the story and the message the advertiser is trying to convey.

    It’s a good 3 min too – showing that ads can run longer now with digital media

  • The US Army has some pretty cinematic shots in one of their ads

    also great post I thought I was just thinking about it too much for a while :)

  • They’re a few years old now, but Nike’s ‘Take It To The Next Level’ and ‘Write The Future’ campaigns are two of the best and most epic brand stories I’ve seen. They perfectly articulate the aspirational appeal of the brand, as well as telling fantastic stories with great wit and panache. They feel like feature films compressed down to a few minutes.

    • I should also include this Canal+ ad, which has as good an ending as you’ll find in commercials:

  • Thanks for posting this Joe. I have seen some amazing shorts which I feel are far more powerful than traditional 60 second spots. This is one, from LG, is one of my favourites:

    I’ve seen great content from Nespresso with “Apricot”, and then of course are the BMW “Hire” short films which are a classic example.

  • I really like this one by Martin de Thurah:

    I really admire his other work, specially his music videos.

  • Kind of like “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane:

  • I love this Nike spot too:
    Same great director who as made numerous great ads and also did the promo film for the Canon C500: Dante Ariola


    This is one that always gets me teary eyed and kind of blows my mind every time I watch it.

    The second one is a “branded short film.” Kind of a cool concept. Worth watching.

  • It is always fun trying to guess the brand on an advert you’re seeing for the first time, and if anything, it is more effective than a standard advert, you’re thinking about their advert and then their brand once it is revealed (often a sneaky slip of a logo on the product etc.)

    The best adverts, which are the clever ones or the ones that tell a good story, people will then go out and look for, to watch the advert again.

    • Nia, it is always a true blisnesg to have you visit my/our blog(s). I feel bad because I don’t make it to other people’s blogs as often as I would like and I am sure I miss quite a few posts, which, no doubt, are my losses. I’ve come back to some blogs a month, or two, after the fact and oft time realize how lucky I am to have had a second chance to review someone’s wonderful entry. If you miss a blog, or are late, no worries. I am sure we all understand that sometimes our intentions and time do not always work hand in hand. The thanks should go to you for being such a sweet and attentive person. Many blisnesg are being sent your way with this response. Be well. Be happy. Marcy

    • If QuotesChimp buy insurance for your car, you are a named insured. So is your spouse if you are married, as well as any other family members who reside with you.

  • This is a very sticky issue. I’m going to play devil’s advocate and say this is a bad thing. There’s something you said in your article Joe: “Either way, I’m all for subliminally being sold a product or service over someone shoving something in my face.” I’m the opposite.

    In the UK product placement in TV shows has only just been made illegal, and in order to do it the programme has to display the letter ‘P’ several times during the show so that people KNOW there’re being subliminally advertised to. I think there is a great mistrust of advertising over here – especially covert advertising.

    I know that this is a big topic in advertising/marketing generally right now. I have to say I’m a big fan of this Harmony Korine short commissioned by Proenza Schouler (so essentially an advert for them): – I think the healthy balance consists of a kind of ‘sponsored filmmaking’ like this, with the company essentially commissioning short films without interfering. I know Grolsch are currently doing this. But I have to say I’m uncomfortable with ‘arty’ adverts who have their manipulative selling mechanism very complexly hidden within, and I suspect I’m not alone (I have the Levis adverts in mind here).

    I could write pages and pages about this but i’ll leave it there! Very interesting topic, this one.

  • sorry I meant to say that product placement in shows has just been made LEGAL. Not illegal. Silly me…

  • Luigi Montebello on 12.27.12 @ 6:59AM

  • I made this one on 5D few years back. It’s for an apartment complex in Bratislava, Slovakia


  • For me this is one of the best ads ever

  • Like this post, I’d like to share one we made at my work using only a Canon 60D. Hope you enjoy it!
    Survive + Win Giveaway from Ryan Hall on Vimeo.

  • Homer Gaijin on 12.27.12 @ 2:23PM

    Remember BMW Films film short series. Innovative tactic as you mentioned Joe, were branding takes second stage to storytelling.

  • Adding this one to the list. A lot of people feel that it’s the best commercial they’ve ever seen, and I tend to agree with them. :-)

    • Crap, that didn’t work right – let’s try again:

      • Still didn’t work right. Just right click the video, copy the video url and paste it on the browser address bar to see it in the proper format.

  • “…most of the filmmakers behind the ads are simply trying to tell a story…”

    This is the trouble with accepting advertising as art. Some of those filmmakers are exceptionally talented, but they aren’t simply trying to tell a story. Riefenstahl wasn’t simply trying to tell a story either, she was trying to convert the audience to a following by telling stories that she believed to be beautiful. Appreciate the aesthetics but make the distinction. Its enough damage to our society that art is made to sell itself; if selling becomes art, there is no hope.

  • I still think the old ikea lamp ad is still better than all of them :D spike jonze!

  • Skinny Pete on 12.28.12 @ 8:59AM

    KA-BAR Knives has some awesome videos. Here is one of many.

  • 1. “people are more willing to watch high-quality, meaningful videos , even if it is a commercial.” –
    Meaningful? Really ? Meaningful ? – Sorry ,speak for yourself.An is an Ad. Off it goes when it
    comes on.

    2. “Can anyone recall important moments in their life that didn’t have a pair of 501′s included?” You are
    really serious aren’t you ? Man ,I’m sorry ,but I can recall an entire lifetime and all of its moments
    without a single pair of 501′s appearing.
    Saddened ,but not surprised to see the title of this article.

  • Interactive movie we shot as a promotion for Hell Pizza in New Zealand…

  • This is a branded short film I made for Samsung (they commissioned it) for their Galaxy Note. I took the phone and constructed a fantastical love story around it and here’s the result! :)

  • Love this spot. And FX Guide has a ton of great making-of material to go with it