With ever more competition for our attention, advertisers are thinking differently about what it takes to capture the imagination of audiences. Increasingly we're seeing brands experiment with delivering more emotive, cinematic work that's a long way from the TV spots we're accustomed to.
However, the art of delivering a satisfying piece of filmmaking with brand involvement is a tricky one to achieve. With much 'branded content' work, the 'branded' aspect seems to take precedent over the 'content', leaving viewers with little more than a slightly longer commercial. There are however, some exciting pioneering efforts that shine through. A superb example is the episodic film 'The Beauty Inside' starring Topher Grace and Mary Elizabeth Winstead and directed by award-winning director Drake Doremus. There's serious cinematic credibility here, but the films were made on behalf of Intel and Toshiba, with the aim of create a compelling reason for consumers to engage with their brands via a heartfelt piece of genuine drama.
So what made this campaign work? The film was a brave move for the brands, as it doesn't really contain any direct reference to the product or 'hero shots' of technology. Unlike much brand-funded content, the pace of the film is gentle and allows time for characters to get established. The ad works on its on merit on an artistic level in an intelligent and articulate way without telling people what to buy.
'The Beauty Inside' is a charming love story about two people who fall for each other. However, wrapped around the core of the tale is a sci-fi premise so tantalising it's amazing it hasn't been seen before - what if every day you woke up in a different body? Not the easiest of sells to a client, but the folk at Intel and Toshiba were obviously confident enough in the agency (Pereira & O'Dell) and the Sundance-winning director to give it a punt.
This project was the director's first foray into the commercial world, so the reaction to the film was definitely surprising and exciting - the first episode alone has 1.5m views (and counting on YouTube). The fact that it really touched people the way it did was cool and unexpected. Interviewed on the series, Drake Doremus said he chose to do the project because he saw it as a fulfilling artistic project - "an interesting love story in a metaphorical sense about who people really are on the inside and who they want to be" and "a great opportunity to try to do something really deep and really meaningful".
So not your typical advertisement, by any means. In addition, the film worked differently with audiences, playing out episodically, with opportunities for viewers to get involved between installments. Viewers had an opportunity to film themselves and become stars of the clip as examples of the people the main character could become. User-generated content that came in was handpicked, directed and filled in all the week of release.
Looking at the industry reception, this risk paid off: 'The Beauty Inside' picked up an incredible three Grand Prix awards at this year's Cannes Lion Festival Of Creativity (in Cyber, Film and Branded Content categories), not to mention the two Gold, four Silver and one Bronze Lion it also grabbed. The Cannes win is just the climax of an endless awards streak - three Silver Pencils and one Bronze Pencil at The One Show in the Online Films & Videos category and also in the Best Use of Social Media/Facebook category, the coveted Film/TV award at the SXSW Interactive Festival, two Golds and a Silver at the Art Directors Club, and Best Branded Content at the previous The One Show in the Autumn and a mighty two Gold CLIOs picked up a month ago. Phew! That success shows that great creative can truly inspire people, and that smart marketers are truly raising their game.
This article was co-authored with Jamie Madge, Worldwide Editor for SourceECreative.