Brands

What Nokia’s Bruce Lee Ad Tells Us About Content Marketing [VIDEO]

By James O'Brien August 13th, 2012

Sometimes content is so darn good, it never seems to die.

Last week I noticed a new Facebook post on my wall. The link given was to a video of what looks like real footage of Bruce Lee playing ping-pong with nunchucks.

The comment that the poster made about the link: “This may make one want to completely reexamine one’s priorities.”

In the video, the legend Lee stands in his familiar black-piped jumper. The film is grainy, black and white. At one end of a ping-pong table, Lee is across from his opponent, who is just about to serve.

What follows is visually amazing.

The ball leaves the tabletop and out come Lee’s nunchucks. The pock of the ball’s bounce into the air. Lee’s weapon whirls and the ball rockets back. Again, and again. One arm behind his back, Lee moves delicately. Sometimes his leg is in the air, sweeping the space just over the table. Sometimes his whole body is airborne, aloft in pirouette.

This goes on, gloriously, for just about 60 seconds. And then it is over. The crowd erupts and the scene suddenly pulls back to the face of Nokia’s N96-model phone. Lee’s now in its screen. The phone revolves. His face is engraved upon the back.

What a great new commercial, I thought, when it comes to how content can amplify a brand without pushing. And also, I entirely believed that it was Bruce Lee at the table unbelievably returning all those volleys.

The secret behind the Nokia and Bruce Lee video

Here’s the thing: it’s all studio wizardry (thanks to Zerzle for figuring it out).

And, the piece has been around since 2008.

Chinese ad agency JWT Beijing created a real-looking piece of footage, but used special effects to make it seem like Lee was nunchucking his way through the ping pong match.

“Yes, we discussed with the director how to make it look like a never-seen-before secret footage of Bruce Lee,” said Polly Chu told Agency Asia. “The director took a great effort to study Bruce Lee and found the right talent.”

Longevity and Pull: Lessons from ‘Bruce Lee Ping-Pong’

The video that Nokia and JWT created scored 700,000 YouTube views in 24 hours, when it first came out, and went on to rack up more than 4 million more views after that.

Whatever its veracity, there are 3 lessons “Bruce Lee Ping-Pong” teaches that are enduringly relevant.

  1.  Vital Online Content Defies Shelf-Life: If the material is timeless it will live outside of time. When work goes viral online it can reach millions, but because the internet is so nebulous, four years later folks — like the reporter’s Facebook friend — still discover content that to them feels fresh and new. Return on investment gets cast in the light of new and attractive possibilities if your content campaign can play out over years instead of weeks.
  2. Compelling Ideas Equal Brand Expansion: People don’t perpetuate new viewings of “Bruce Lee Ping-Pong” because it’s a Nokia commercial. (In fact, maybe certain viewers would never consciously re-post a cell-phone spot at all.) But the Bruce Lee piece is about an idea before it’s about a product. It’s about being amazing and it’s about the inspiration that viewers get when they watch what they think is Lee. Why does it get posted? For what Chu refers to as the: “social kudos the consumer who passes it on is looking for from their friends.”
  3. Good Enough Idea: Stay Out of Your Own Way: We’re on the path of what we’ll refer to as the big pullback. JWT’s commercial exemplifies this: We’re in the Lee universe until the end, and then the movement of his image to the cell’s faceplate presents the idea of the brand, but the content of the spot — the stunning ping-pong performance — is never less than paramount.

One of the most important content marketing takeaways is that something paid for by Nokia nearly half a decade ago is still providing the company payback. This value is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. It is unlikely this kind of enduring value could have come from a TV commercial. Browsing and posting is active.

The goal of creating content should be fueled by the Bruce Lee lesson. Innovate, in the way of Nokia/JWT, and give users material that inspires them. The results of your branding effort, using content to pull not push, can become the stuff of legends.

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