Story Time

French creative director Rémi Babinet of the agency BETC says: ‘Advertising agencies are the specialists of the short film. With the multiplication of screens, our expertise is likely to become even more relevant.
Mobile media offer a particular opportunity, because the smaller the screens are, the more attractive short films become.’

The challenge is that successful viral spots are self-selecting: if they’re not entertaining enough, nobody passes them on. This means that brands are often forced to disguise the ‘selling’ aspect of their advertising. But they stand to gain in the long term, because once they’ve established their credentials as entertainers, consumers will be keener to hear from them in the future.


Branded entertainment

Branded entertainment is the talk of Cannes these days. There is some debate about what it actually is, but Richard Armstrong, a partner at Kameleon, an agency specializing in the field, told me in an interview for ‘It’s about creating ideas people want to spend time with.’ In a world of unlimited choices, this is essential. ‘Branded entertainment encourages consumers to seek you out, rather than requiring you to interrupt them.’

It’s now common for brands to have their own ‘channels’ on YouTube, where they launch new videos and archive older material. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that viewers will respond to quality branded content. When energy drink Red Bull sponsored Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s free fall from the stratosphere on 14 October 2012, 8m viewers watched a live stream of the event online. At heart it was a conventional sports sponsorship; but the activation of digital media turned it into a global phenomenon. The highlights video on Red Bull’s YouTube channel had garnered more than 32m views at the time of writing.

A more conventional form of online branded content is the web series: short ‘webisodes’ that mimic some of the conventions of traditional TV, along the lines of the BMW film extravaganza mentioned earlier. During the 2012 Olympic Games, Kameleon made a series of short documentaries for Procter & Gamble’s YouTube channel, telling the stories of athletes from the point of view of their mothers. Asian agency Fuse (part of the Omnicom group) created an online branded drama in China for a Unilever anti-dandruff shampoo brand called Clear. Not very alluring, you might think. But the story of a group of young friends battling career and life challenges became a huge hit, running on prime-time TV as well as online. The third series in 2012 attracted a total of 1.3 billion views online, according to the agency.

Because branded content frees its creators from the constraints of the 30-second spot, the storytelling can be richer and more engaging. Perhaps that’s why it’s attracting the attention of major established talents: David Lynch has directed an online film for Dior; Roman Polanski helmed one for Prada. The films are languorous, glossy and expensive, which luxury brands love, as do their consumers.

Mark Tungate is the author of Adland: A Global History of Advertising