You can't open your e-mail in-box these days without unsolicited advice about length. So when I received a message a few months ago with the subject "Dazzle with Extra Length", it went straight in to the trash.
A few weeks later, I received a call from Caroline Marshall at Campaign asking why I hadn't replied to her invitation to chair the second Film4 Director's Cut Awards applauding longer-length commercials. Oops. Anyway, for the second year running, I became the chairman of the jury.
Last year's winners, Sony Bravia "balls", Levi's "launderette", Honda "cog" and Heineken "water in Majorca", set the bar high for this year's entries.
Again we were looking for mini-epics that stood out from the advertising wallpaper that fills our screens today and sends young viewers to YouTube for their entertainment. Longer, more engaging work has to be the way forward for commercials, not least because they have so many spin-off opportunities in our content-hungry world.
This year, our shortlist contained 14 ads, whittled down from more than 160, which is the total universe of all longer-length ads aired from January to March 2008. Our jury of 19 viewed, re-viewed and debated the best work of the shortlist, and three other juries will do the same through the year.
So what advice did we give the jury? We kept it simple. Put yourself in the viewer's shoes. Does the ad use its extra airtime to tell a powerful and engaging story? Does it play with character, narrative and dialogue to deliver memorable advertising? Does it touch you, engage you with the brand? Would viewers choose to watch it rather than reach for the personal video recorder?
These criteria instantly ruled out more than 140 ads in which credit broker testimonials featured far too strongly. And they also allowed a few "advertising" spots through that would never trouble a D&AD jury. The "story of a dot" for Guinness featured stunning animation, but ran only in ITV's Ulster region so was unknown to the judges. "Adidas story" gave us 60 attractive, but decidedly wooden, seconds on the rise of Adidas from sports shoe manufacturer to global clothing giant. Two musical epics for Halifax and McCain made it through to the final cut, but car ads dominated our shortlist. The focus on brand imagery for international markets must have been one of the motivations behind "the new Jag" spot for the Jaguar XF. This spot moves away from story-led narrative to a big-budget image fest, each frame beautifully set up and shot in the manner of a music video.
"Orchestra" for the Ford Focus made it to the shortlist, but didn't make the grade for many jurors. Some saw it as a witty, cut-through idea, others dismissed it as a pale Honda imitation.
Citroen's strategy - equating a French car with the excellence of German engineering - polarised the jury. What was a clever piece of advertising strategy for some, was no more than a catch-up approach for others. The super-rich tone and direction took this tongue-in-cheek piece of film fairly high up the shortlist, but it didn't have the edge of its predecessors.
Last year, Honda won a special prize for the best contemporary long-form advertiser in these awards. Having already established itself at the top of the tree with its vibrant collection of "cog", "grrr", "choir" and "impossible dream", its "puzzle solvers" commercial - in which Honda employees made a giant Rubik's Cube among other oddball tasks - had much to live up to. Beautifully shot and provoking, it was a very close contender for a commendation.
EDF's carbon emissions spot proved another thoughtful contender. It takes clips from other commercials, films, cartoons and documentary footage, then recycles them, literally, and builds a message around that fact. Subtle and confrontational, it worked the format well for our jury, with the technique acting as servant to the idea, not - as often happens - the other way round.
A commendation went to Vodafone's charming "magical" spot, which shows a young man dancing his way back into his girlfriend's good books to her downloaded song on her mobile. This is a charming expression of Vodafone's "make the most of now" line, and an expert use of music and length to force emotion into the ultra rational telephony sector.
Transport for London's road safety "do the test" spot was also commended. Cheap to make, and edgy in its tone, the subliminal message about the dangers cyclists face was brought to life brilliantly in this spot. While a crowd of people are passing basketballs, a man in a bear suit moonwalks through the middle of them and viewers fail to spot him. A mini-storm of controversy over the originality of the idea did not trouble our jury. The ad was aired 28 times over two days in London, but has since been downloaded almost seven million times.
And so to our winner, "here come the girls", created by Mother for Boots. This film of office workers getting ready for a big night out gave us 100 seconds of irresistible advertising insight. The spaghetti wires of hundreds of hair straighteners, the mist of perfume, the limp, uneaten sausages as the men wait for their prey ... this is a hardworking retail ad that manages to push product and charm the viewer simultaneously. Thirty seconds would simply not have done this mini-epic justice.
Every day, clients ask their creative and media agencies to do an incredibly difficult thing. Come up with an original advertisement. On this particular strategy. For us. Now. Or sooner. "Here come the girls" shows us that a little extra airtime makes that difficult task a little sweeter.
- Paul Weiland is a director, writer and the founder of Weilands.
FIRST QUARTER: JURY
Chairman - Paul Weiland, Founder, Weilands
Ian Armstrong, Manager of communications, Honda
Andy Barnes, Sales director, Channel 4
Claire Beale, Editor, Campaign
Graham Bednash, Director, Michaelides & Bednash
Alan Bishop, Chief executive, COI
Richard Burdett, Head of 4creative, 4creative
Damon Collins, Creative director, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R
Phil Georgiadis, Chairman and chief executive, Walker Media
Lindsay Gibson, Commercial innovations manager, Channel 4
Claire Harrison-Church, Brand marketing director, Boots
Leon Jaume, Executive creative director, WCRS
Nick Kidney, Creative director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty
James Lowther, Partner/creative, M&C Saatchi
Caroline Marshall, Consultant editor, Haymarket Brand Media
Mike Parker, Head of strategic sales and commercial marketing,Channel 4
Cameron Saunders, Head of marketing digital channels, Channel 4
Neil Simpson, Chief execuitve, Publicis
Julia Wrigley, Head of scheduling and programming, Channel 4
FIRST QUARTER: WINNER
Boots - Here Come The Girls - Gave us 100 seconds of irresistible advertising insight. The spaghetti wires of hair straighteners, the mist of perfume, the limp, uneaten sausages as the men wait for their prey ... this is a hardworking retail ad that manages to charm the viewer. Thirty seconds would simply not have done this mini-epic justice
Vodafone - Magical - A charming expression of Vodafone's 'make the most of now' line, and an expert use of music and length to force emotion into the rational telephony sector
TfL Road Safety - Do The Test - The subliminal message about the dangers cyclists face was brought to life brilliantly in this spot. A mini-storm of controversy did not trouble our jury
Adidas - Adi Dassler Story - This ad gave us 60 attractive, but decidedly wooden, seconds on the rise of Adidas to global clothing giant
Cadbury Flake - Joss Stone - The British-born soul singer revives the iconic Flake jingle as she takes a break during a recording session
Citroen C5 - German What was a clever piece of advertising strategy for some, was no more than a catch-up approach for others
EDF - Carbon Emissions - Subtle and confrontational, with the technique acting as servant to the idea, not the other way round
Ford Focus - Orchestra - Made it to the shortlist, but didn't make the grade for many jurors. Some saw it as a witty, cut-through idea, others dismissed it as a pale Honda imitation
Guinness - Story Of A Dot - ELO's Mr Blue Sky and a voiceover by Donald Sutherland accompany this story of an ambitious travelling dot who wants to be, well, Guinness
Halifax Current Account - Something Good - The all-singing, all-dancing television ads use the long format to memorable (if irritating) effect
Honda - Puzzle Solvers - Had much to live up to. Beautifully shot and provoking, it was a very close contender for a commendation
Jaguar, XF Luxury Car - The New Jag - A big-budget image fest, each frame beautifully set up and shot in the manner of a music video
McCain, Home Fries - Chips Glorious Chips - With Cat A glorious adaptation from the musical Oliver. Feline endorsement too
Thorntons - Stuck - A captivating generic insight about making a decision. But did it say Thorntons?
- The Film4 Director's Cut Awards are held in partnership with Campaign. The awards celebrate brilliant commercials of 60 seconds or longer. The aim is to encourage creatives, advertisers, media planners and TV buyers to successfully develop longer time lengths. By the end of 2008, after four quarterly judging sessions, these awards will have found the best 12 60-second ads of 2008. Early next year these 12 ads will be put to a nationwide vote and the Film4 viewer will decide the overall winner which will be shown on Film4 with a director's cut commentary within its own branded break. Oh, and the scheme is free to enter. More info at www.channel4sales.com.
Campaign and Film4 would like to thank the nice people at Xtreme Information who are helping us research all commercials of 60 seconds and over throughout 2008. www.xtremeinformation.com.