Amazon's short films serve to generate buzz with consumers more than to place products
Amazon.com's series of short films is being described as part of a trend that BMW made famous: advertisers extending the 30- or 60-second ad format to provide several minutes of entertainment without the hard sell.
First with its internet-only minifilms in 2001 and more recently with its Beat the Devil 10-minute movie that ran in theaters, BMW and the ad agency behind the project, Fallon (which also created the Amazon films), are the most prominent pioneers in this relatively immature trend.
The BMW films promoted the product through the plotline and direction, showcasing speed, design, steering, or all of the above and more. Amazon's films have a dual promotional message going on. On the micro level, viewers are made aware of the wide variety of products that can be bought from Amazon through the credits at the end of the films, which show not only cast and crew, but have clickable links to products scattered throughout. And on the macro level, Amazon is bolstering its mission to improve the customer experience by providing free entertainment that doesn't have the sole aim of moving product.
Just like Target is a more aspirational brand than Wal-Mart or Kmart because its stores and product lines are more attractive (quite aside from their respective marketing efforts), Amazon's enhanced features make it stand above other such sell-all retailers as Overstock.com and Buy.com because it's more than just a utilitarian environment for retail sales; it's a destination. People often go to Amazon not because they need to buy a Harry Potter book and a set of wineglasses; they go to Amazon with nothing in mind other than to see if anything tickles their fancy. In many ways, in fact, Amazon seems to have just as much in common with the new rash of magalogs, such as Lucky and Shop Etc., as it does with any retail brand, either online or at the mall. It recommends products, showcases and reviews them, and provides a small amount of non-product-focused entertainment.
A Wall Street Journal article stated that Amazon had not accepted any product-placement fees from manufacturers for placement in the films, which is common in Hollywood. The placements themselves are fairly obvious and not overly intrusive. The overweight assistant's frumpy wardrobe shows off Minnie Driver's smart outfit enough to let us know that it'll be credited at the end. What's odd is the clunky parts that other objects play that make you think they're product placements, but aren't. Why is the assistant eating a snack off a china plate with a knife and fork in her boss's office if it doesn't turn out to be a Mikasa dinnerware set?
Regardless, the product placements aren't the key thing that will get people talking. The fact that the content is there in the first place, just like last year's A-list gift recommendations, should be enough to get people to visit the site at least once a week (when a new movie goes up), and given Amazon's tailored front pages and recommendations, the experience is unlikely to stop at watching a movie.
The film isn't all that remarkable in my view, but that's not the point. People are still talking about it and will still check it out, which is a job well done.