August 16, 2016

Are Shorts the Future of Commercials?

How do you get an audience to watch an ad in 2016? By pretending it's something else. 

Today, extensions like Adblock Plus can effectively remove commercials from a user's internet experience. PageFair, an internet privacy rights advocacy group, puts the figure of ad-blocking users around the world at roughly 200 million (with an additional 420 million out of 1.8 billion smartphone users).

So, what's a company to do in order to get its message across in this hostile climate?

In May, the tech company Qualcomm released Lifeline, a 30-minute short film conceived, written, and directed by Oscar-winning Birdman screenwriter Armando Bo, featuring Olivia Munn and Joan Chen. A thriller about a "Chinese man using his American girlfriend's smartphone to track her down after she goes missing in Shanghai," the film was made to entertainas well as, according to The New York Times, "promote the company's new Snapdragon 820 chip set, a smartphone processor."

The product of advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather, the film features dialogue in English and Chinese and has already received more than 20 million views. Despite the suspenseful and engaging plot, the goal of the film is, of course, to sell phones. According to Fast Company, paraphrasing Bo: "The Qualcomm chip...is the real hero of the film."

Even the behind-the-scenes video of the film has received an additional 100 million views, most of them from China. 

Rather than fighting audiences, advertisers are now striving to entertain. “The holy grail is if people seek you out,” Teddy Lynn, chief creative officer for content and social at Ogilvy & Mather, told Fast Company.

This is just the latest in a long line of films, arguably beginning in 2002 with BMW's series of films The Hire, directed by the late Tony Scott and featuring Clive Owen (with appearances from stars like James Brown and Madonna). But, as Steve Golin, founder of Anonymous Content, the multimedia company that produced both Lifeline and The Hire, pointed out: "That was at the time the internet was still dial-up...It would take all night to download.”

"The Qualcomm chip...is the real hero of the film."

Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media studies at New York University, is troubled by the blurring of commercials and entertainment, telling the Times that because ads are, by their very nature, biased towards “the benefits or virtues of the products and, even more troubling, downplay the dangers or risk of a product," the use of cinematic technique and Hollywood talent "makes the commercial intent even harder to perceive and blurs the true purpose behind the work.” But with companies like Prada and Nike getting into the mix, this doesn't look like a trend that will fade anytime soon. 

Lou Aversano, chief executive of Ogilvy & Mather NY, sees this latest trend as just the extension of a symbiotic relationship: a history of sponsorship that goes back to the dawn of TV and has mutated over the years. As for the future: “I think we continue to push, not just in terms of length, but in terms of the line between entertainment and brand message."  

What implications this has for the nature of art, commerce, and filmmaking are yet to be seen, but as famous directors have been making commercials for years, it only seems natural that they should also flock to this new and lucrative art form.     

Your Comment

9 Comments

Art has always been commissioned by the wealthy and powerful. These days, that's corporations rather than aristocracy and the clergy. Interesting shift nonetheless!

August 16, 2016 at 6:27PM, Edited August 16, 6:27PM

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Guido Gautsch
Education Person
320

Whether it's the future or not, I still won't watch if I can sense that it's nothing more than a commercial. It's unfortunate that advertising is what pays for good journalism.

August 16, 2016 at 7:23PM, Edited August 16, 7:23PM

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Charles Duoto
Studio Floor Director
1385

Tony Scott is the bomb, literally. I love The Hire. His films have a beating pulse that gets in ur guts. I'm down for this ad trend if entertaining, but the product/brand delivery better be f-n graceful.

August 16, 2016 at 9:35PM

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Adam R. Taylor
Director/DP
162

In-Film Branding has been there for a long time, this is 'In-Shorts' Branding. Uncle Darwin says that if it has the merit, it's gonna stay otherwise no. So, chill guys.

August 17, 2016 at 12:53AM, Edited August 17, 12:54AM

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Arun Meegada
Moviemaker in the Making
182

It is quite interesting and actually smart. On the other hand i think it's cheating on us, so I don't like it!

August 17, 2016 at 11:31AM

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I really love the idea to combine shorts with advertising as long as it doesn't destroy the magic of a story. There are product placements which can really be distracting in very bad way.

We've given it a try with a German fitness Youtuber who looked for something special to promote his new fitness program. Finally we wrote a story of a young kid trying to escape his negative surrounding by starting an intense workout and gain self-consciousness - kind of a Rocky story :) It was an interesting way of product placement since the fitness guy was our "product" and it gave us the opportunity to produce another short. So think out of the box!

You can check it out on Youtube if you search for "Naturgewalt".

August 17, 2016 at 1:53PM

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Steffen Boseckert
Director / Editor
74

The question should be what drives the story itself. If a Story drives the film then it's Art - sponsored by a brand and that's fine (even if the brand manages to get mentioned in the film). As someone said most art is paid for the rich and wealthy and now brands. Status quo.

However if the Story is driven by a Brands need to communicate/sell - soon the story becomes just advertising, the plots become weaker, the Art not really "Art" and we have advertising disguised as Art.

The problem is "We (consumers) know when we're being sold to, we always know". http://blog.brandkit.io/blog/people-know-when-they-are-being-sold-to

August 18, 2016 at 6:48PM

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Interesting points. Sponsored content is a gray area but I do think it's inevitable and product placement is not exactly new news. Also, since time immemorial (well, time memorial) art has reflected the desires (ideological/aesthetic) of its patrons and ruling culture. So, you know, the Italian Renaissance (especially) brings about images of merchant princes instead of religious iconography. The new secular princes were celebrated by artists who in turn "discovered" three-point perspective and became geniuses to be idolized, contra the artisans of the Middle Ages who anonymously built cathedrals and painted "simplistic" murals (which were, in the case of say Bible stories in tapestry form, easier to understand in their linear, almost comic book form to an illerate populace unable to read the Bible.) The "innovations" of Renaissance art were old techniques that just reflected the new patrons who wanted to have an art celebrating them and an art more complex than the church and full of individuality rather than piety and yada yada Qualcomm.

August 23, 2016 at 11:56PM

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Justin Morrow
Writer
Writer/Director

That was meant as a general reply to all, not specific. Shouting into the void. Good talk.

August 23, 2016 at 11:59PM, Edited August 23, 11:59PM

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Justin Morrow
Writer
Writer/Director