Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Now Playing: Short Films as Marketing

I remember reading awhile back about the incredible success that BMW had with a series of eight short films called The Hire. These shorts (this one's called The Ambush) were created in 2001 as marketing tools, but they looked anything but, and no wonder. Among the directors chosen to work on the projects were Ang Lee and Guy Ritchie. The shorts starred star Clive Owen and featured well-known celebrities including Madonna (her's was called Star) and James Brown, and award winning actors like Don Cheadle, Forest Whittaker, and F. Murray Abraham.

Before reading about The Hire, I hadn't thought much about the short film genre as a marketing vehicle, but it seems lots of people are doing it these days.

One of the most stunning examples I was able to find is one created by Mercedes Benz in 2007 to promote the launch of its luxury SLR McLaren Roadster, which can be yours for about $500,000! For a car like that, this short, entitled Die Erlkoenigin (The Illusive) had better be good! And it is.

George Zabrinski (Robert Seeliger) is a crack photographer attempting to get pictures of the new Roadster as the car goes through secret pre-launch road tests in the north of France. Along the way he meets up with a mysterious and sexy hotel mate Laura Ziegler (Franziska Schlattner - who turns out to be the Mercedes security chief on the road test), an inexplicably bitter waiter and a dowdy older couple on holiday, all of whom eventually figure into the plot. After several dramatic - and sometimes amusing (one involves a goat) - twists and turns, the film comes to an ending that caught me by surprise. It runs on what Mercedes calls an innovative new platform called FLOADED, with an interactive feature that enables users to stop the film at certain points and go to brand profile sites via a "brand layer."

The cinematography, editing and acting in this short is better than you'd find in most feature films. You'll rarely see a stick shift or a bumper lit and photographed this artfully! Seeliger and Schlattner develop full blown characters with a subtle sexual tension -- all in the space of 10 minutes. The film even has its own soundtrack by the up and coming band "The Kilians."

OK, cool movie. But is it really effective marketing? I guess that all depends on how you define marketing. If it's selling me the car, then the film failed. There's no way I can afford a $500,000 car -- or any Mercedes for that matter. But if marketing means building a brand, then I think the film is a success. It's, fast, it's sexy, it's good looking and well made -- all qualities Mercedes wants us to think about when we think about their cars. The campaign also invites viewers to spread the movie virally -- there's an "e-mail to a friend" icon right on the opening page. I enjoyed this movie enough that I definitely will share it.

And isn't creating "buzz" what it's all about? My colleague Elicia cited another great example that took a different tack to create buzz with a short film. In 2003, Volvo created a mockumentary about the small Swedish town of Dalaro, where 32 people all bought a Volvo S40 on the same day. The film "interviews" these people about their "motivations," and even talks to "scholars" about the psychological and sociological implications of the phenomenon. What's more, Volvo later created another mockumentary "exposing" the first as a fake! Elicia says over a million people visited Volvo's website and half watched the original film.

I do wonder, though, whether the short film is already old news as a marketing device. Over a million people watched The Hire series of films, and they've become a textbook example of innovative and creative thinking. Fast forward six years to The Illusive, and while I could find some talk about the movie in the trades and on blogs, it's nowhere near the level of buzz that The Hire recieved.
P.S. another great marketing short you should check out is The Call, a short film by Pirelli tires, starring John Malkovich. Think "The Exorcist" meets a posessed car! Thanks Dan for the heads up on that one!


Unfrozen Cave Girl Marketer said...

Hey Anne,

I like your question about whether the short film is already "old news."

I think this is an important question for digital marketers to ask because a) there's so much hype, and b) everything is so new, it's hard to tell what's just hype, and c) our habits and behaviors really are changing in connection with new technologies and forms of entertainment.

Last week I attended a PRSA seminar at which several marketers in the audience expressed weariness at trying to "keep up" with new technology and trends that change every few months. Our panelists, who included the authors of Media Rules! and Beyond Buzz, responded that people always wanted "good content" in a format they could use, and that marketers needed to be on the lookout for ways to incorporate the stories of their brands into other stories.

So I guess my answer to you is that, in a way, the film itself is old news, and so are TV programs. I don't watch as many films and TV programs today as when I was in high school, partly because I'm busy, partly because I have more entertainment choices. But the Illusive is new to me, and I like the story and the direction, so I'll watch it.

And I really like the Floaded branded layer! To me, that layer made the product placement a lot more useful. It introduced me to some products I've never seen before - solar cell collector messenger bags?!

Anne said...

Hi Cave Girl --

Thanks for responding. I guess that's the challenge of this whole emerging media thing: everything moves so quickly and no one knows what's going to happen next.

I agree with you that the Floaded platform takes the movie to another level: now the movie isn't just branding MB, but it's also marketing stuff.


Drew's Reviews said...

I think you've opened up some great discussion about a new trend in marketing and advertising, particulary as it applies to high-end products and services. You'd never advertise this half-million dollar car to a mass audience on TV using conventional formats. But it does make sense to create a slick internet message, accessible on demand, intended to entice the very narrow, up-scale, target audience with an alluring fantasy involving spies, surveillance and sexy women. You want these images playing in the theater of their minds when they pick up that Montblanc pen to write out that $500,000 check!

Anne said...

Drew --

Thanks for your insight.

I agree with you that it's the perfect vehicle (pun intended) to market a high end product to a high end consumer. The other point I made was that if marketing is as much about building the brand as it is making a sale, then the movie works too. I'm left with all the right feelings about the brand after watching the film, even if I'll never buy a Benz.