How film can blur the lines between advertising and entertainment
The most memorable branded films are usually the ones that let straplines, logos and product messages take a back seat. They’re the ones that have steered well away from traditional advertising methods to focus purely on the entertainment factor.
One of the early beginnings of branded filmmaking was The Hire by BMW - a pre-YouTube crime thriller that could be viewed online when you registered with the website and later on DVD if you visited certain dealerships. By today’s standards, the sell wasn’t particularly subtle (with the car playing an integral role throughout), but The Hire was the first branded film that really put entertainment before advertisement. It was also probably the first time a brand had shown holes being shot through their own product.
You can see how a branded film could be made entertaining when you take a BMW, and add hitmen and diamond heists. But what if you want to talk about something less frivolous than a new luxury sports car? Network management company, Netscout, tackled their chunky subject by making a documentary film that delves into our intensifying relationship with the internet. Directed by Werner Herzog, Lo And Behold: Reveries of The Connected World takes the conversation way beyond the brand. In fact, it never even mentions Netscout’s products or services - the important thing is that they were the ones telling the story and that they told it in an interesting way.
This, combined with Werner Herzog’s unique approach to filmmaking, was one of the things that helped the B2B marketing campaign become a successful film in its own right: It premiered at Sundance where it was bought by Magnolia Pictures, it’s won a number of awards in both film and advertising, and sits at a ‘Certified Fresh’ 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Rupert Maconic, the founder of Saville Productions, writes about the project in AdWeek, stating “We attribute the film's success to one obvious fact - it is wildly entertaining”.
Prada also enlisted the help of an eccentric director for a branded film, but this time to make something more stylistic than informative. Castello Cavalcanti, was directed by Wes Anderson and features his unmistakable storytelling, set design and general quirkiness from beginning to end. It actually looks more Wes Anderson than Prada.
It’s difficult then, to see how the audience takeout could be translated into sales, and it’s not exactly clear what, if any, of Prada’s designs you should be buying. But, with the help of a very distinctive directing style, Castello Cavalcanti shows off the brand's creativity in something you can enjoy as an entertaining film before anything else.
Brands are continuing to find themselves in Hollywood, with big names and big budgets. In 2014 Lego started their blockbuster movie franchise with what was essentially a $60m branded film. Titled The Lego Movie, the main premise is - Lego brings families closer through the power of creativity - a message that wouldn’t seem out of place in a TV spot. The film doesn’t pretend that Lego isn’t a toy for sale either - spoiler alert - towards the end of the movie, it’s revealed that the Lego world is a set that belongs to an eight-year-old boy, and the adventure all happens in his imagination. The franchise was a success from the start, grossing $69 million in the opening weekend.
Of course, people knew they’re being sold to when they walked into the cinema but, in Lego’s case anyway, this fact didn’t seem to stop them enjoying the movie for what it is; a funny relatable film about our relationship with a likeable brand.
With the rise of streaming services, we’re spending more time watching film and TV than ever before. And if a show is good enough, we’re inclined to binge watch the whole series in one go. Branded films are one way that advertisers are managing to compete for this time, but whether it’s a three minute short or a blockbuster movie, the value for the audience lies in a film’s ability to come across as something genuinely entertaining.