17 June 2011
Seems like everyone's making long-form commercials at the moment. Or are they short films? Or are they mini-documentaries? Or is it all branded content?
The question is: where do people see it and how much do they really want to watch it? Long or short, it comes down to the same thing. This content needs to be engaging and relevant if it's going to get people's attention.
Perhaps inspired by the very excellent Johnnie Walker "the man who walked around the world", Chivas Regal has made a three-minute film charting the history of the brand over the past 100 years, through the First World War, the Great Depression and prohibition.
Illustrated using layered black-and-white photographs, the whole thing is voiced by Joseph Fiennes, who sounds like he's talking to a bunch of primary school children. This probably went down a storm at the distillery, but I just can't imagine anyone else being particularly interested in it. There's no drama - it's just sweet, feel-good internal comms pretending to be something that will stimulate consumers. It lives somewhere on the web so the numbers will tell how it fairs, but there's no expensive media time risked on it.
Not so the new Audi Le Mans film. Audi made a bold move and thrust this two-and-a-half-minute extravaganza into the middle of the Champions League final. This one must have looked good on paper. The 24-hour race is brought to life blow by blow-out. The graphic style is interesting but, unfortunately, the hero of the piece is a diminutive Scotsman with a squeaky voice. Yes, Allan McNish is the real driver, but he's no Steve McQueen. He's made worse by jogging on the spot for most of the film, which only makes him look like he's dancing a Highland fling. The power and drama of the race is traded for a science lesson.
Intel is next, and it offers us a mini-documentary. It opens up with "Intel presents", just to get the branding out the way before we start. It's all about Kitty and Lala, a Chinese couple who take wedding photos with a difference. Their creativity has been liberated by technology - ie. Intel. Quite a sweet story but not nearly as interesting as its Museum of Me Facebook app. It does a reasonable job of putting a human face on a faceless technology company but, again, I'm wondering where this lives and what would compel people to watch it.
No such problem for the new Orange cinema ad. It has a captive audience and treats us to a 66-second comedy sketch. The humour is pretty formulaic. We've all seen old foreign-language films re-used with subtitles that talk about the product to comic effect. There's something more interesting here, though. The film in question, Potiche, is new and features Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu. This acts as a trailer for the new movie, as well as tying into the Orange cinema brand idea. This could end up being a successful series if it can team up with the right new movies.
Back to television for Honda's sponsorship of Channel 4 documentaries. We follow the story of an alpaca farmer called Philippa in Oxfordshire. This is quite entertaining with quirky music and features a Honda ATV, which she uses to tear round the farm and terrorise the alpacas. It's one of a series and I'm guessing the rest feature other Honda vehicles. Viewers have the opportunity to upload pictures and stories about the surprising ways they use their Honda products. And, you know what? They probably will. Quite neat and done with bags of charm.
From alpacas to Elephants - or, should I say, ELEPHants, in this case. A well-designed, simple poster for Elephant magazine that doesn't try to include too much content. The question is: will it engage people enough to want to find out more?
I come at this from two standpoints. I'm an ex-client with a desire for communications to produce action and be accountable. I'm also now back in the agency business and fascinated afresh by how to capture imagination and hold it. My questions are: does it stop me and does it change my behaviour?
The overwhelming impression of this week's work, in which there are acute insights and powerful pieces of craft, is that of length. The films here are not 20-seconds-long and 30-seconds-long. They're between 60- and 395-seconds-long, and I don't think they are necessarily stronger for being longer. As the net removes the iron constraint of media cost, my fear is that we lose some of the mastery of short-form communication that has made UK work so effective.
What Audi (150 seconds) has done at Le Mans is extraordinary. It's made diesel the weapon of choice for the fastest sports cars in the world, and its car looks like the hot love child of Darth Vader and the Batmobile. But this film, for all its artful animation and killer facts, doesn't recreate the kinetic excitement of motor sport. The spokesman is a brilliant driver but uncharismatic presenter, and his account of what he does for 24 hours is so matter-of-fact that it becomes almost mundane. At the end of it, I'm impressed but not moved; and, for this brand, that feels like a backward step.
The triumph of the Orange Gold Spot campaign (60 seconds) has been to take the deadly serious tropes of the Hollywood pitch ("25 words or less") and then mercilessly subvert them by twisting every effort and endeavour of the hero towards the parallel universe of mobile telephony. Who could forget Steven Seagal and the golf carts?
The formula seems weaker here. Using subtitles to subvert dialogue and action filmed months before feels less fresh and dangerous. The fact that the stars (Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu, both in wide vision) are already self-parodic further lessens the dramatic tension. It's still a campaign built round a brilliant behavioural device, so I know what to do, but my awe of Orange isn't increased.
Honda (90 seconds) has produced an ident spot for its support of documentaries. Featuring an alpaca breeder of unfeasible poshness, it feels like the Mitford sisters have gone in for a spot of independent film-making. It has a gentle and surreal charm and I can imagine it appealing to genteel Channel 4 docuphiles, but the Honda product (a quad bike) feels so vestigial, it could be lost in the shake of an alpaca's tail.
The Intel film (395 seconds) is the story of a Chinese couple, Kitty and Lala, who take unusual nuptial snaps. It looks ravishing and there are interesting thoughts about the power of new images of togetherness in a society remaking its ideals. But like many wedding videos, its audience seems limited and, given the utter brilliance of Intel, which is functioning on the cutting-edge of human technology, speeding up digital photo processing feels like setting the bar too low.
Chivas Regal (177 seconds) feels like what used to be called a corporate video. Sporting a vibrant voiceover by Joseph Fiennes, it takes a mellifluous glide over images of 20th-century New York before arriving at the reformulation of the brand in 2007. I can imagine it going down very smoothly within the hallowed corridors of Chivas, but I can't see it stopping anyone outside.
Finally, a perfect poster. With less than one word and a single visual, the 48-sheet for Elephant magazine is a copybook use of the medium. It stops like a brick wall on the M1.
A pedant might argue over whether there is a call to action, but given the style-obsessed audience who will be squealing at the audacious visual delight, the simple presence of the URL feels like all that is needed to produce the desired effect.