Ads Directed By Filmmakers


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Adsolute Art

Commercials have been a common topic of conversation at parties and break rooms for years, as successful ads stuck with viewers for either emotional or comical resonance. But as the medium evolves, we are beginning to see even more strides of artful advertising that are so well-engineered they are works of art in and of themselves. 

Love it or not, we will continue to see advertising move further away from traditional and recognizable techniques to compete with the changing landscape of entertainment with platforms where you can skip, mute or not have ads at all. In this blog, Hollywood Branded examines the rising trend of ads directed by filmmakers and how marketing is quickly transitioning from traditional advertising to branded content.

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The Advent of Advertainment 

Sometimes when I tell people I work in product placement and branded integrations, they'll be dismissive and write off the field of work as being uncool. This is typically because in their head, they're imagining a movie or show where suddenly the the character is holding a Coca-Cola beverage and for a second, the media feels like it suddenly turned into an advertisement. Ads of course, are not "cool."

But what a lot of people don't realize is that in fact, pretty much every show and movie you watch is working with different agencies who are securing placements and when the agency has done a great job of integrating the brand, it doesn't feel like an advertisement. Can you see a box Reese's Pieces without thinking of the movie ET? Or how about the way the character Eleven is obsessed with Ego Waffles in Stranger Things? Ever notice that Sheldon from Big Bang Theory is always on a Dell laptop?

ego waffles

For most people, the answer to all these questions is no, because the placement feels authentic to the content. Organically weaving brands into a narrative is one of the most effective means of advertising, particularly when considering that audiences from both millennials and Gen Z are less receptive to blatant and overt advertising than previous generations. That is why advertainment has proven to be one of the most effective means of reaching consumers. In fact, we're seeing a wave of brands transitioning to this form of advertising. 

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Chipotle's Not Playing Games

In 2014, the fast casual food chain, Chipotle launched one of the most fascinating forms of advertising with their campaign to promote their fresh quality ingredients. This was created in reaction to the fact that Chipotle, having grown beyond the ability to meet their own standards, sometimes uses less sustainable meat when they run out of product from their first choice distributors. 

Instead of just running a traditional ad campaign, Chipotle released a short animated film about a scarecrow working in a factory farm, who is so miserable from seeing the unethical treatment of cows and chickens, that he opens his won food stand - preparing fresh mexican food with healthy and sustainable ingredients. The video is set to a hauntingly beautiful cover of the song "Pure Imagination" from Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory performed by Fiona Apple. Check it out for yourself!

The twist is that at the end of the video, you learn that the film is not just an advertisement for Chipotle itself, but actually a free app game designed around the narrative of the scarecrow. This was truly a genius campaign that resonated perfectly with millennials - combining the emotional resonance of nostalgia from both Willy Wonka and Fiona Apple. Utilizing multi media of a music video and a video game, Chipotle successfully managed raise their brand awareness jump from 64% to 70%! They also saw their system-wide revenue jump 25.8%. This was a major win for the brand and an innovative approach at marketing.

Spike Lee Hits A Home Run

Recently Spike Lee created a short film about Jackie Robinson as an advertisement for Budweiser. Titled "Impact," the film first splices real footage of Jackie Robinson playing with modern reenactments of crowds gathering to watch and listen to games he played. Then the film shifts to current activists including LGBTQ advocate, Dustin Ross and Amanda Nguyen, who penned "The Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights." Again we see Budweiser is leaning into cause marketing, (for more information on this new trend check out highlights from an interview we gave with an expert in cause marketing) through Lee's iconic vision.

Ridley Scott Presents... Hennessy?

We're also seeing a gradual shift toward award-winning directors taking more work on commercials for major brands. Most recently, Ridley Scott directed a short film for Hennessy, in promotion of their new line, Hennessy XO. Being as many members of the film academy got their start shooting and directing commercials, returning to the medium is not unbelievable. However, the ways in which brands seek these directors to give a new artistic feel to branding and advertising demonstrates a shift toward a need for commercials to become more like high art.

As the first commercial advertising project Scott has taken up in 15 years, it made a splash when it was announced in fall of 2018. The film is a striking cinematic work with visuals reminiscent of films like Mad Max, Star Wars and Avatar. With no dialogue in it, the film depicts seven worlds - each describing an aspect of the new Hennessy line, and ends simply with text that reads, "Each Drop Is An Oddyssey."

Naturally, Hennessy's partnership with Scott is not a game changer. Directors like Wes Anderson, Sophia Coppola, Darren Aronofsky, and David Fincher have also directed commercials between films. But the notable difference is the way in which this trend is becoming more common. Brands recognize a need for their presentation to have a stronger and more artful aesthetic in their branding.

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The Takeaway

This and cause-based marketing (when brands incorporate social causes into their advertising a la Nike and Gillete) are the future of marketing and advertising for younger generations. As previously mentioned in another blog post I wrote, Hulu announced in the fall of 2018 that they were working to eventually drop ad breaks in programming as much as 50%. How will they do this? By creating more seasonal content with robust brand integrations! That's right, the streaming content network plans to create new content with organic product placements built heavily into it.

We already see this happening in programs like the show "Making It," which featured branded integrations in the middle of the program that are performed by the hosts of the show,  Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. Doing so mirrors the podcasting approach of advertising which blends so seamlessly into the rest of the program that it becomes harder to tell when the placement ends and the program resumes.

making it

Naturally, many folks won't like this and we can expect backlash to this growing trend in advertising. Though as millennials and Gen Z have different priorities in mind with purchasing power and want to feel good about supporting brands that resonate with them on an artistic and social level, we will continue to see brands find more innovative approaches to reaching their intended demographics.

Interested in learning about more ways that brands have gotten creative with advertising? Check out some other blog posts we've written on the subject!

Want to learn more how your brand can make a leap into the enterianment industry to grow sales and awareness? Check out our pricing guide!

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