Brand films deliver emotion that empty copy never could

Ben Bale, creative innovation director at Drum and a speaker at this year's Brand Film Festival, thinks that brand films have a unique power.

Non-advertising people don’t talk about adverts. They don’t talk about sponsorship, branded content or 360 omni-channel messaging frameworks. We all know this, because once, (a very long time ago for some) we didn’t work in advertising.

In 2002 like all normal (read non-advertising) people I wasn’t interested in brand films. What I was interested in was Marilyn Manson albums, Gary Oldman films and the murky and exciting history of delta blues. If you’d have told me that almost 20 years later, I’d vividly remember a BMW advert – including the shot choices and script, I’d have laughed at you. Yet in "Beat the Devil" directed by Tony Scott, BMW created something that took my passions, my interests, and a rebellious attitude I understood and kept me hooked to a 9 minute advert for a generic, corporate, sedan. By the end of it, in my mind, they were the height of cool. I told my friends about it. I still do. It had dramatically changed my opinion and consideration of the brand in a way no 30 second model-launching spot ever could.

In 1986, Hasbro released a feature length animated advert staring Orson Welles and Leonard Nemoy: "Transformers". Within the first 10 minutes, they’d killed off most of my heroes (including Optimus Prime – gasp!) and provided my parents with a long list of new toys to buy. I needed the new characters. Smack bang in the middle of the target audience, I repeatedly watched that brand film for years. In 2007 an entirely new generation did exactly the same thing again.

Moving out of the past to the present, Nokia Bell Labs have worked with world-renowned beatboxer Reeps One to create "We Speak Music" a six-part series that relaunches their on-going desire to push the boundaries of artistic output through technology that has existed since the 1960s. It’s not a soulless tech demo, it’s a passionate investigation into the untapped power of human voices culminating in a demonstration of man and machine working together that has to be seen to be believed. As a demonstration of what the brand stands for, it can’t be beaten.

These three examples have some really simple things in common that I wish more brands, marketers and agencies treated as if they were handed down on stone tablets. Firstly, they are driven by emotion, not product. BMW? The thrill of speed, of driving a performance car unleashed. Hasbro? The dream that heroes rise from difficult circumstances, and you could be that hero. Nokia Bell Labs? Your voice and our technology can change the world. 

Secondly, they express the why of the brand, not the what. They create a connection between audience and brand, showing a common purpose. Take Santander’s "Beyond Money" – in a world where most people assume banks are unethical profit-uber-alles organisations, their film aligns them with the sentiment that some things are more important than money. If they’d said "we think some things are more important than money" on a giant billboard in Barcelona, people would have ignored them. They didn’t tell, they shared. That shared emotional experience delivers more than empty copy ever could. A child experiencing an emotional rollercoaster through plastic toys. A rebellious teenager being convinced that a German sedan could be the height of the rock and roll. A world seeing cutting edge AI technology not as heartless and scary, but as a new way to understand who we are. That’s the power of brand films.

Ben Bale is creative innovation director at Drum. He is a speaker at the 2019 Brand Film Festival London, which takes place in 1 May. Click here for more details

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