Long format brand films and ad agency role

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Of late there’s been some debate about long format ad films made primarily for digital media. It’s not a new phenomenon – while ad films meant for TV are routinely :30 or :45, it’s common to see 3-4 minute ads on YouTube. Some brands have taken to long format ads on traditional media too.

Some recent films which come to mind:

– Google Search
– KitKat
– Pepsi Gharwali Diwali

My view on such ads:

– the debate should not be about the duration of the film but it’s content, relevance and impact.
– these are ad films – shorn of some of the ‘features’ of a typical ad film, like a product window, problem-solution etc. There is a story being told but there is an effort to hardwire it to a brand
– issues relevant to traditional ads are relevant: single minded proposition, branding
– however, entertainment quotient is important in such films
– branding, while important has to be subtle and not in your face like traditional :30 ads. Ad formats with product windows and sell jobs don’t fit in this scenario
– long format ads aired on traditional TV is expensive and almost always, not the optimal use of client’s monies. There could be exceptions when the story telling is so good that only a long duration film would do but more often than not telling a compelling brand story in :30 or under is ideal on traditional media

Aside from this long format ads, there is another kind of long format films on digital media which brands have used. Schweppes created this 12-minute film in 2009 which went on to become a viral hit (10mn views). Recently, CommonFloor sponsored, Permanent Roommates- series of films which have gone on to create some buzz. And then there’s the Chilli Paneer series for DBS Bank.

The hallmark of such films:

– these films are not typical ad films – the objective is clearly entertainment
– branding if any, is extremely subtle. In the Schweppes film – the only reference to the brand is tangential – a character puts her finger to her lips – linked to the ‘Shhhhhh…’ of Schweppes. In the CommonFloor films, the brand gets a mention as a sponsor, the characters are in a setting related to the product category (hunting for rental property) and use the CommonFloor app in the film. In fact, in these films there is no link to the thematic advertising at all

Another observation is that while ad agencies are involved in long format ad films, specialist creative, digital & production houses are beginning to create films of the latter kind. I think it takes guts to invest in digital films where the reference to the brand is tangential and barely there. It may not suit the marketing objectives of all brands. But such films are high in entertainment value and have scope to go viral. Is this another area where traditional ad agencies are going to lose out? Ad agencies are best placed to create such films – they know the brand, they understand the audio visual medium and have always complained about the creative constraints of a typical :30 ad film. Here’s a chance to break free from such formats. A lot of specialist projects – packaging design, social media, app development etc., have already been taken out of an ad agency. I hope ad agencies don’t lose out on long format brand films like the ones made by TVF for CommonFloor.

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