5 ways to use online film

Jennifer Whitehead reports on the brands that have most successfully built film into a campaign.

5 ways to use online film

Maybe you have been in the industry long enough to have commissioned a camera crew to visit a client and shoot a B-roll on film. Or maybe you are young enough to have only ever seen editing done on a MacBook Pro.

Either way, you will be aware of how important the moving image is to good PR campaigns – now more than ever, given how many of us have a device for playing video in our hands most of the day. In fact, according to a Cisco Visual Networking Index estimate, by 2017 two-thirds of all the mobile data used in the world will be in the form of video.

New technology does present many new opportunities, but the PR industry has long understood the value of showing a story and not just telling it with printed words and pixels.

Even more than that, PR professionals understand how to earn media that you cannot pay for. So while the media might have different names now – Vine, Instagram, YouTube – the principles remain the same.


Vine is Twitter’s video-sharing service. It was the most downloaded app of the month in April 2013, when it first appeared in Apple’s AppStore, and is now available on Android and Windows handsets.

An interesting video can get shared (or revined, as it is known) tens of thousands of times among users. At six seconds a piece, it is just a bite of information. Instead of being an obstruction, however, the brevity often inspires creativity.

What you might be surprised to know is how flexible a medium it can be. Brands are using it for every- thing from how-to videos and competition launches to incorporating it into their customer service offer.

NatWest, for example, has created a series of Vines that are aimed at students, answering simple banking questions such as how to register for online banking. It has followed this up with a series of money-saving tips, which tie in with a wider NatWest Uniproof Student Bank Account campaign.

Not only do the videos have some interesting information (did you know that putting a wooden spoon across a saucepan stops it from boiling over?), but they are all done in a tone of voice appropriate to their target market.

At the time of writing, the very act of using Vine in a campaign is still considered newsworthy.

In September 2013, Dunkin’ Donuts aired a US television campaign made entirely from Vine footage and managed to get a lot of PR, given the ad is just a five-second spot, so innovation can be a story in itself.


Fashion labels are, of course, inherently visual brands, so it is no wonder that many of them, from Canadian yoga clothing brand Lululemon to American classics label Michael Kors, have started incorporating Instagram into their PR campaigns.

British stalwart Burberry has managed to rack up close to one million followers on the photograph and video-sharing site, which was acquired by Facebook in April 2012.

The Burberry feed offers a mix of celebrity ambassadors, beautiful models and gorgeous clothes, and now that Instagram lets users share videos, it has added film to the mix. A behind-the-scenes preview of Burberry’s spring/summer 2014 show at Men’s Fashion Week in June this year has been liked by more than 19,000 followers and shared widely. Most recently, fans have been praising the new advert for Burberry Brit Rhythm fragrance.

The message here is that social video works really well for brands that have beautiful content – if you are working with clients with a great eye for visuals, make the most of it.

Longer-form content

There is a lot of buzz about how short, "snackable" content is watched, shared and liked, but people do watch longer films. A great example of this is the world-famous TED. It stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design and started in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from these three worlds. The non-profit venture is devoted to "ideas worth sharing" and now has hundreds of brilliant, inspiring talks online.

A great example of using TED as part of a bigger campaign is Headspace – a company led by a former Buddhist monk dedicated to bringing meditation to the masses. Founder Andy Puddicombe gave a ten-minute talk to an audience about meditation and the benefits of doing nothing. There is no branding in the talk, no hard sell, just a persuasive explanation of why it is worth giving meditation a try. And yet it is great exposure for the company, with 1.4 million views of the video since it was posted in January 2013.

With Headspace being an essentially online business – it teaches meditation through an app and via its website – the audiences are already at its shop-front, so to speak, as soon as they have finished watching a video. Longer-form content is great if your client has interesting, inspiring ideas and is good at presenting them to an audience.

User-generated content

We are all potential Spielbergs now, with smartphones and video-sharing apps encouraging us to capture our lives and create mini films. User-generated content is not a new concept, but the easy access to video gives brands a whole new way of getting consumers involved in campaigns.

John Lewis Insurance recently did this, inviting people to upload stop-motion films to Vine of the things in life they considered the most precious, using the hashtag #whatmattersmost – tying in with the theme of a major advertising drive.

While hashtags in campaigns can sometimes invite people to post negative content in a bid to get it seen more widely than it normally would, it is amazing to see how positively people can respond to a brand they love.

With an incentive of £1,000 worth of John Lewis vouchers for the best video, John Lewis Insurance received some incredibly creative, heartwarming videos from people who were clearly inspired by the theme. And brands are only just working out how to use social video, so there are plenty of opportunities to create innovative campaigns.

The viral

The viral might seem old hat, but it remains one of the most powerful ways of earning exposure – just ask Korean popstar Psy, whose Gangnam Style invisible horse-riding antics have racked up 1.7 billion views on YouTube to date.

There are companies that specialise in creating successful virals and can advise on everything from the content of the film to seeding it online, to predicting how likely a video is to go viral before it is released.

The top triggers for getting people to share a video are: humour – think of the Old Spice campaign; something heartwarming – such as T-Mobile’s Welcome Back video, featuring passengers arriving at an airport; or anything with the wow factor – such as Evian’s CGI rollerskating babies, which have been viewed by more than 70 million people on YouTube alone.

Virals can be used in so many ways, from promoting a new television show to securing extra exposure for an advert. So do not write them off because they are not new – but make sure you do not leave it to chance to make them work.

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