x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Neymar, Beats by Dr Dre, and the future of advertising

Three- and five-minute commercials, sometimes clearly linked to the sponsor and sometimes not, are replacing 30-second TV spots in the age of the viral video.

Wearing Beats headphones, Neymar of Brazil. Stuart Franklin / FIFA via Getty Images
Wearing Beats headphones, Neymar of Brazil. Stuart Franklin / FIFA via Getty Images

When Beats by Dr Dre wanted to promote its headphones in time for the Fifa World Cup, it didn’t rely on a 30-second TV spot or an online banner ad. Instead, it created a mini-movie showing the pregame rituals of Neymar, Cesc Fabregas and Luis Suarez. The five-minute film, called The Game Before The Game, has racked up more than 10 million views on YouTube.

Beats is far from the only brand taking a stab at long-form content. To promote its Helix Ultra motor oil, Royal Dutch Shell sent the actor Adrien Brody (an Oscar winner for The Pianist) on a driving challenge through a Malaysian jungle for a series on the Discovery Channel.

The strategy, known as content marketing, and its role in capturing some of the projected US$544 billion a year in media ad spending, will command attention as top advertising executives gather this week on the French Riviera for the Cannes Lions festival, which runs through Saturday. As ad agencies hire producers, directors and writers to create longer content, they are increasingly looking like TV or movie studios.

“This type of advertising is more effective because it’s targeting a specific audience,” said Mark Eaves, a co-founder of the London-based advertising agency Gravity Road. “Content spending is growing massively every year as some brands are starting to think in terms of the audience and not just the consumer any more.”

It worked for Shell. Driven to Extremes has aired in more than 70 countries since March last year, attracting 60 million TV viewers. People who saw it said they were 30 to 40 per cent more likely to buy the product.

“We wanted to demonstrate the effectiveness of Shell Helix without being very direct about it, and we wanted consumers to draw their own conclusions,” said Americo Campos Silva, global media manager at Shell Brands International in London.

As consumers click away internet pop-up ads and record TV shows to fast-forward through ad breaks, other brands are paying agencies such as Interpublic Group of Companies – whose unit R/GA produced The Game Before The Game – to create short films, documentaries and TV series. While only 5 to 7 per cent of the brands commit to this type of format, the number is growing because it can better target audiences and boost credibility, said Ogilvy Entertainment, a unit of the world’s biggest advertising agency.

Companies do not need a big budget for such marketing, and many brands are moving away from $1m commercials, said Doug Scott, the president of Ogilvy Entertainment. A three-minute to five-minute film typically costs $250,000 to $300,000, and can run across different platforms, surrounded with social media and pitched by public relations, Mr Scott said.

Ogilvy Entertainment created three-minute films for the electronics maker Royal Philips, including one featuring MRI medical-scanning technology and a cancer patient, and another with Argentinians praising an electric kettle that shuts off when the water is hot enough for a cup of yerba mate. Marks & Spencer filmed spots with celebrities talking about moments in their life, with no mention of the brand.

Volkswagen took yet another approach, teaming up with the electronic music group Underworld to develop an application that creates music in real time in response to the movement of a Golf GTI car.

Volkswagen’s Play The Road, which showed the software being tested, had 3.5 million views. Fans could also enter a competition to drive a Golf GTI and try the app for themselves at a track day.

“If a brand brings you information of value that’s educating or entertaining you, and connecting emotionally to you, you will tweet about that or tell a friend,” Mr Scott said.

Industry executives credit BMW for changing the way products were advertised about 15 years ago when it started a series of eight short films by directors such as Ang Lee, Guy Ritchie and Tony Scott, with actors including Clive Owen, Madonna and Forest Whitaker. The series attracted more than 100 million viewers at the time. They were so popular that BMW later released a DVD compilation.

Bacardi’s Mumbai Sapphire gin even won a Bafta award for British Short Film from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in February. It was generated from the brand’s “Imagination Series” competition set up with Gravity Road. Contestants downloaded a script by Geoffrey Fletcher (an Oscar winner for Precious) that lacked any stage directions and used it to create their own ad.

More than 170,000 people downloaded the draft and the winner was Room 8, a short feature about a prisoner who suffers the consequences of opening a box after his cellmate urged him not to. The film premièred along with four other finalists from the “Imagination Series” at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

“Brands need to have a very different relationship with consumers,” said James Morris, head of Mediacom Beyond Advertising, which worked on the Shell TV shows. “There needs to be deeper engagement and the route to do that is to engage with cultural experiences.”

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