Content Marketing

Are Short Films the Future of Commercials?

They normally arrive when you least want them, they come and go fairly regularly, and they are hard to avoid. You do everything you can to make them go away, but sometimes it’s just not possible.

No, this article isn’t about your in-laws—it’s about commercials.

For quite some time, viewers have had commercials pushed upon them, whether it’s at the peak moment of a show (like when American Idol is about to announce its season winner), in between plays of a sporting event, or even at the start of the newest blockbuster film.

However, interruptive advertising isn’t nearly as effective anymore, since people are watching less live broadcast TV. Instead, the trend is moving towards watching video online. (Check out what Comedy Central is doing as an example of how this trend has evolved.)

“The percent of online adults who watch or download videos has also grown over the past four years, from 69% of adult Internet users in 2009 to 78% today,” writes Kristen Purcell of the Pew Research Internet Project. And a third of millennials watch no broadcast TV, according to The New York Times.

As a result, brands are increasingly pressed to create content that people will actually want to consume.

The longform ad

Whether or not you’re a fan of the World Cup, it was pretty hard to miss “The Last Game,” the stunning, Pixar-quality animated short film Nike released earlier this month. The ad featured animated versions of stars like Neymar, Iniesta, and Ronaldo and became an instant online sensation. It’s earned nearly 60 million YouTube views so far, in part because Nike has been heavily promoting the film on targeted sites like ESPN.

So why has Nike made an animated film one of the centerpieces of their World Cup advertising?

“The trend started because of the length of time people are spending on the Internet, multiplied by the cost of delivery via free sites like YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, and more,” explained David Salinas, CEO of Digital Surgeons, a full-service integrated branding agency.

Using longform ads also puts more eyeballs on brands’ videos, according to Robert Smith of Robert Smith & Associates, an ad agency in Loves Park, Ill.

“With so much channel surfing it’s hard to fight through the clutter, so longform commercials give you more chances to reach consumers,” Smith said.

Ice cream, lesbian love, and Lily Allen

One of the first and most successful brands to take advantage of the trend is Cornetto, an ice cream company based in the United Kingdom. Over the past few months, Cornetto has been releasing a series of short romance films in its “Cupidity Series.” The most notable example is the eight-minute “40 Love,” a love story between two women—a tennis player and the umpire she knocks out with her errant serve—that really draws you in. It also stars Lily Allen, which certainly helped it attract over a million views between YouTube and Vimeo.

Technically, the video is an ad for Cornetto’s ice cream, but you only get a glimpse of the product at the very end, and it’s not even part of the story.

That might be a good thing.

“Some may argue the product being an afterthought makes for bad advertising, but I think there’s something to be said for its entertainment value and the consumer connection,” wrote Roo Ciambriello of Adweek.

The future of commercials?

Cornetto and Nike aren’t the only brands to have success with long-term ads. Many others are jumping on board, and several are getting big name actors and actresses to take part. For example, in 2010, Oliver Peoples released a quirky three-minute video starring Elijah Wood and rock star Shirley Manson.

Chipotle has also jumped into the world of online video, creating a satirical series for Hulu dubbed “Farmed and Dangerous.” The pilot episode was launched this year on February 17, and the rest of the videos in the four-part series aired on consecutive Mondays. The project was such a hit that the brand is already working on its next project.

According to the Video Monetization Report from Freewheel, digital ad views in longform video were up 86 percent from a year ago. So while many marketers are still focused on keeping things “short and sweet” for millennials with low attention spans, the key might not be the length of the video, but the story behind it.

It’s not an easy process

While many people tend to believe that longform ads are simply a matter of “If you build it, they will come,” that’s not always the case, according to Salinas.

“Companies today are tapping major storytellers, film directors and producers to create great sticky content,” he said.

And even after the videos are made, there’s the matter of brands making sure they get eyeballs. It would be a shame, after all, to use so much money on production only to have it go unnoticed.

“Millions of dollars are being used for seeding the content through influencers, social media, and paid platforms via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter’s ad platform,” Salinas said.

Right now, brands are betting that’s money well spent.

What’s the deal with The Content Strategist? It’s something we created at Contently because we believe in a world where marketing is helpful, and businesses grow by telling stories that people love. Take advantage of our tools and talent and come build that world with us.

Image by Oleksiy Mark
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