Building a brand story with narrative film and video

There is so much noise on the internet these days. Effectively using film and video in the process of building your brand story, can help pierce through that noise.

One way to do that is to bypass a traditional documentary or voice-over expositional approach in favor of a fictional narrative.

A brief history of “The Hire”

This method for marketing commercial brands certainly isn’t new. Even before YouTube existed, BMW did it excellently with The Hire series starring Clive Owen.

BMW Films "The Hire"

This was a series of eight short films released in 2001 and 2002, and directed by world-class directors like Wong Kar Wai, David Fincher, Ang Lee, and Guy Ritchie, just to name a few. Each film was centered around Owen’s character being hired to drive someone somewhere in a BMW. The films were thrilling and excellently illustrated the power, handling, and beauty of the cars.

In telling the history of the series, BMW reported that sales were up 12.5% the year after they premiered. At the time of release, the only place to view them was on, and 9 million people visited the site in the first few months. At a time when there were just barely over 500 million users worldwide, that was an impressive feat for just one site.

This installment premiered on the 15th anniversary of the series, and starred Jon Bernthal and Dakota Fanning. It was written and directed by Neill Blomkamp. In addition to amazing chase scenes, it includes a tug-o-war between the car and a helicopter!

Other examples

Other great examples are the nostalgic holiday films Apple creates to market the iPhone and iPad. 2013’s “Misunderstood” holiday video last Christmas about a brooding teen who seems hopelessly distracted by his iPhone. We learn by the end that he was really creating a touching family video.

A more recent example would be Mailchimp Presents, the series of short films Mailchimp has been producing as part of their brand affinity marketing strategy. Mailchimp’s VP of Brand Mark DiCristina recently shared that this new approach to marketing has led to not only increased sales but increased investment from people who were already customers.

This may sound great and dandy for companies with multi-million dollar budgets and access to Hollywood movie stars. But what about poor schmucks like me?

I’m so glad you asked.

Beyond the usual

A couple of days ago I shared with you the importance and purpose of creating a detailed creative brief. In it, I mentioned a short promo film I created for a Seattle-metro artist. The post was a case study on using a fictional narrative story structure to produce a film designed to promote a client’s business.

As a reminder, the film was about Aline Bloch, a Parisian woman who makes furniture out of cardboard. As I wrote in the creative brief post, I wanted to create something that went beyond the usual cinematic documentary style where we hear the artist talk about the passion of her craft. I’ve done that many times with most of the videos I created for clients. I will continue to do it because it’s a perfectly fine approach for communicating a brand.

But there was something about this project that inspired me to break out of my comfort zone and try a new approach.

Crafting the story

I thought about what it is Aline does. She takes discarded pieces of cardboard and makes them beautiful works of art strong enough for an adult to sit or stand on. This slug line came to mind:

Sometimes beauty and strength can be found in the most unusual places…

 EUREKA! That would be my angle.

I wrote a poem about the feeling we all have at times. That feeling of low self-esteem, self-doubt, and self-loathing. That feeling that you don’t amount to anything. But all it takes is one person to see something special in you. It could be a teacher. A coach. A doting mother.

Americans love the sound and cadence of the French language. Comedians joke that even the crassest sentences when said in French sound like poetry. So I knew I would have Aline and her husband translate the poem so she could recite the voice over in her native tongue.

Looking for beauty in "unusual places"

This was my first time directing someone in a different language and the process of directing talent in a language I did not know was a unique and interesting case study in itself. The result was a film that connected emotionally with viewers, while at the same time illustrating Aline’s unique craft.

Here’s the film. Just below I offer four tips for using this strategy to promote a client’s work.

Four tips to make it work

At the end of the day, if you’re producing work like this to promote your brand, it still needs to do its job (which, if you used a creative brief, you have clearly defined). Here are four tips to keep in mind.

  1. The features should star. The film you create should rise above product placement. Don’t just arbitrarily drop the client’s product or service into the film. The features of the product or service should play a key role in “the journey” your main character takes. Think about the way the BMW is portrayed in The Hire.
  2. Grab attention quickly. Grab the viewer’s attention right away. I attempted to do this with the image of the little girl at the beginning combined with the subtitle.
  3. Go for emotion. The film should elicit emotion from the viewer. Make her connect to the film at a deeper level. The “Misunderstood” iPhone commercial did that brilliantly. I hope I did it with this piece. But that emotion could also be laughter. Adobe’s “Click, Baby, Click” video for their cloud marketing service was a great example.
  4. Start with a great script. Don’t underestimate the power of a good script. If you lack the writing and imagination skills to come up with a compelling story that can do all of the above, hire a writer and work that fee into what you charge the client. (Actually, whether or not you hire someone else to write the script for you, you need to charge for writing).

Final thoughts

I want to note that a corollary to the first tip is that a brand affinity building campaign does not necessarily have to feature the product. In fact, none of the Mailchimp videos aren’t about email marketing platforms, or people who use email marketing. I may write about this later. In the meantime, Wistia has an in-depth blog post about the topic.

It goes without saying the role video can play in your marketing mix. If you think outside the proverbial box and push the limits of creativity, you can create great results for your brand; and maybe create some memorable art while you’re at it.

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