The line between creativity and commerce has increasingly blurred as brands find inspiration in the short film format
Is it a short film or is it an ad? This question is being asked more often as branded content becomes the only way for brand’s to communicate their ethos to jaded consumers in creative and unexpected ways.
As people continue to fast-forward through commercials on television and ignore sidebar ads, brands have had to become more inventive with the way they spend their ad dollars. This summer, celebrities have been popping up in people’s social media feeds, but not in trailers for their own films or indie shorts, but in branded short films where the focus is away from the label and onto the story.
Here, PSFK looks at some recent examples:
The Gentleman’s Wager by Johnnie Walker Blue Label
The Gentleman’s Wager features dapper gents Jude Law and Giancarlo Giannini, living the good life – sipping Johnnie Walker Blue Label in bespoke suits on a ‘rarer than rare’ yacht. Law plays a character that finds himself so enamored with the yacht that he asks to buy it. Giannini claims it is not for sale, there is no money that can buy it, but Law doesn’t want to buy it with a money but with a dance.
The six and a half minute spot, while bordering on long, exudes the aspirational lifestyle qualities that Johnnie Walker wants to associate itself with. The bottle and blue label make appearances, but they are subtle product placement – a blurred bottle – that are never more than the background to the story.
Notes of a Day by Dior Homme
Notes of a Day by Dior Homme – a film promoting the AW 2014 collection – marks the seventh season of collaboration between the brand’s creative director, Kris Van Assche, and photographer Willy Vanderperre. Unlike other recent short films, there is not much of a narrative to Notes of a Day, it is more of a moving editorial – a blur of still and live action shots to create a stunning and slightly eerie ad.
“We wanted to imagine a meeting between [German performance artist] Joseph Beuys and Christian Dior in the approach to the campaign,” says Kris Van Assche. He adds:
There is an insistence on a certain aspect of character with each of the models, and this was very much linked to the idea of performance. The idea of what makes a man is an ongoing dialogue both in the collections and in the alternate campaigns – here there are a few different aspects looked at all at once.
High end fashion and art are inextricably linked. In this video, Dior Homme sets a mood for the type of man – the stylish, knowing, artistic gentleman – who will wear its suits. It both represents the brand’s vision of masculinity while attracting those who understand its ethos.
Danny MacAskill at the Playboy Mansion by Red Bull
You’d be forgiven for not realizing this was an ad until the very last second. Unlike the previous two, Danny MacAskill at the Playboy Mansion by Red Bull does not feature the product at all. The only hints are the logo on MacAskill’s helmet – which is hard to see with all his tricks-filled cycling around the mansion’s grounds – and in the last ten seconds when the logo appears in the top right hand corner as MacAskill rides away.
MacAskill has a YouTube following in his own right – he has over 100 million views across his YouTube portfolio according to Adweek. A deft sportsman performing the tricks his fans love surrounded by Playboy bunnies may seem like the makings of the perfect on-brand viral video for Red Bull, but it has also run into its fair share of controversy for its lack of ‘actual tricks’ coupled with blatant objectification of women in the video. Red Bull straddled the line, hoping the old ad adage ‘sex sells’ would win out, but perhaps this time they failed.
Jump! by Jameson Irish Whiskey First Shot
Jump! stands out from the pack as the only one that is actually a short film and not an advertisement as such. The film, by Jessica Valentine, was one of the three winners of Jameson Irish Whiskey’s annual First Shot competition in partnership with Kevin Spacey’s Trigger Street Productions. Each year three unknown writers or directors are given their ‘first shot’ at the film industry, by getting their work produced by Trigger Street Productions with the promise of an A-list actor to star.
In Jump! Uma Thurman plays Wendy, a young woman who thinks she can fly and is under 48 hour observation at a psychiatric facility. There she meets Jack, and the rest is a touching story of how the two help each other.
This is an example of a brand using short films as a means of thought leadership and patronage. Like the great cultural patrons of the Renaissance, the Medici family, many brands nowadays hope to align themselves with the arts, fostering and promoting independent creativity not for advertising, but for arts sake. Jameson’s First Shot is not about the product, it is about supporting a cultural medium that is becoming harder and harder to access. As such, through these films, Jameson can then reach people beyond their usual brand demographic.
While the term branded content can leave people feeling manipulated or cynical about advertising today, there are some iterations that are truly pushing the boundaries of what it is to be a great storyteller. Like Jameson, that can be to bring otherwise unheard stories to the masses, or Dior Homme creating thought provoking art pieces. Of the latest examples, Red Bull stands out for its failure to comprehend the true possibilities of bringing together famous faces, short films and brands.