Close-Up: How a movie is updating the ad model

Howard Webster explains how brands will play leading roles in his new film, Meet Pursuit Delange.

When I first called Mike Hope-Milne, the enterprise director at Pearl & Dean, my pitch was simply this: "Your whole business model is about selling six or so ads before a movie at the cinema. How would you like to sell 11 more during it?"

I'd called Mike because I was directing a new British musical comedy movie called Meet Pursuit Delange, set in the world of media and entertainment. Pursuit was based on a column I used to write in Broadcast and Factory. It was a blokey Bridget Jones about being in your thirties, male, single, unemployed and broke, and I planned to part-finance the movie through a new ad-led business model.

The model involved inviting a brand or portfolio of brands to creatively adapt an upcoming viral or ad campaign and seamlessly integrate them into a movie's plotline. In the case of Meet Pursuit Delange - a British musical comedy where song-and-dance numbers form natural ad/viral breaks - there are up to 11 slots available, including the title and end title sequences.

Think of Cadbury's gorilla, the Drench hamsters, the Evian babies or the Shake 'n' Vac ad appearing as bespoke song-and-dance numbers within a Four Weddings And A Funeral-type movie and you've got what we're doing.

Each of the ads or virals would sit organically within the movie but could also be pulled out like a Lego block and used as a standalone ad or viral. So the brand director gets their campaign, with the added benefit of them also being platformed in a movie - a movie that they now also own a part of the revenue for.

The slots within the movie are purchased by the brand's media agency in the same way that they would purchase any other space on TV or radio. Once the ad slots are purchased, the brand's creative agency is briefed to come up with the creative to fill it. The movie's director and the production company then produce these slots with the agency. The only extra element to the creative brief from the brand is that the ad or viral must also advance the movie's plotline from A to B. Or, in the case of a purchased title sequence, sell the essence of the story as well as the brand.

The cost of the slots within the movie are at a fixed price - the production costs of the actual ads or virals are separately costed, depending on the final approved brief from the brand and agency.

As ROIs go, an ad campaign that's part of a timeless and iconic movie is mind-blowing. Even better, if some spotty teenager decides to rip a copy of your movie and upload it on to an illegal file-sharing site to share with the world for free, then your advertising is still reaching the consumer and working for the brand.

The purchase of the media slots in the movie has an added financial benefit. By integrating an ad or viral campaign organically into a movie and purchasing the slots within the picture, the investing brand would also own part of the movie's ultimate revenue streams based on the proportion it has invested in the overall budget of the movie through the acquisition of fixed-price media slots within the picture.

That all sounds great, but like so much in the media and ad business - at this stage - it's just hyperbole and words. That's why I realised that for this to have any credibility with a company such as Pearl & Dean and the agencies it deals with, I was going to have to prove the point in the real world first. With this in mind, I set out to fund a pilot.

Meet Pursuit Delange was an obvious candidate for a movie.

Several drafts of a script later, I'd persuaded some investors to put up the money to make a 25-minute pilot, and had also talked a great cast into becoming involved.

We've also reverse-engineered real-world examples of what "hybrid ads" would look like with real brands in the context of Meet Pursuit Delange.

The pilot is now complete, and we're doing two industry screenings in London at the Empire Leicester Square - one this week and one in September. At the same time, Pearl & Dean is engaging agencies and brands and introducing them to the opportunity.

What is most interesting about this initiative for me is that, should Meet Pursuit Delange prove successful, a major opportunity exists for the British advertising, media and film industries to come together organically to create new revenue streams and ad models that could stimulate an entire new film industry in the UK. It just requires a different, less modular and more boundaryless form of thinking.

- Howard Webster is the founder of Factory Publishing.