Short films

Following BMW’s lead, Levi’s has produced a series of short films to connect with the artsy 20-somethings of the world. As if jeans aren’t ubiquitous enough with the demographic! In any event, the films are scripted reality – they are shot with handheld cameras, feature obscure struggling actors and the dialogue is freewheeling. All of which plays off the demographic’s love affair with real life captured on film.


In one film, “Helium,” a group of 20-somethings inflate a guy’s jeans with helium and watch him float around an abandoned lot. It’s an entertaining little episode but I find myself struggling with ROI. Can the producer connect exposure to some – heck, ANY – positive result for the company involved? These films are creative, they’re entertaining and some of them, like “Helium,” would and do make great TV spots. But what about the shorts that don’t make it to the small screen? Do they generate anything for the sponsoring company?


According to You Tube, “Helium” was posted in June 2008 and some 420,000 viewers have watched it since. That’s great … Did it cement a relationship with the brand in any of their minds? Did it induce any of them to buy a pair of Levi’s? Did any of them click to the Levi Web site after watching it?


Watch this video clip of David Skul, CEO of an interactive media marketing firm. In it, Skul discusses the potential for measurement attributed to new media.




Did you notice Skul mentioned umteen ways to COUNT or TRACK viewing and visitors but none of the discussed metrics followed the marketing tactic’s ability to impose financial consequences for the company? In today’s weakened economy and sharply competitive marketplace, it isn’t enough to simply count how many people watch the films or share the films with friends. It isn’t enough to know how they landed on the film either.


Final Bark

There is a push in marketing to move the discipline from the expense side of the ledger to investment. To avoid reductions in budgets and enhance the perception of the practice’s vitality to the success of a business, marketing professionals are trying to position their existence and their labors as essentials not luxuries. To do so, those of us in the field must clearly and succinctly demonstrate how each and every action forwards the company’s financial health.


When BMW raced to the forefront of the global consciousness with its series of films — aptly titled “The Hire” and directed by some of the most innovative filmmakers of the last half century — the buzz could be heard reverberating around the Web as well as the walls of marketing departments all over the globe.

The German carmaker is not the first to take aim at consumers with a story-driven spot; way back in 1939, Kellogg’s produced a short (one minute, 21 second) flick on Snap, Crackle and Pop tackling three thugs for control of the breakfast world. But BMW’s series does appear to be the first to take award-winning, critically acclaimed feature film directors and use them to produce a platform to discuss products and brands.

The Web site traffic, word-of-mouth buzz and media interest sparked by BMW’s efforts has — as one would expect — inspired a host of imitations. Just about everyone and their brothers are rushing to produce and post short films. To date, none of the films released in the follow-up wave have produced a tenth of the interest generated by the German carmaker’s pack-leading gamble. The innovation curve has past and the cluttered landscape – a YouTube search of just about any company name will turn up some kind of film — has already jaded many segments, including that elusive teen and 20-something crowd.

Given the relative blitz of short films as well as the stagnant economy’s impact on marketing spend, I’d be willing to bet short films will slow to a drip over the next five years. Still the tool does merit some discussion:

Marketing uses
— Slipping past their defenses
Audiences have been clamoring over the amount of ad rhetoric for decades. A scholar published an article all the way back in the February 1951 edition of Harper’s Weekly detailing the general dissatisfaction with the pervasive nature of advertising. I would imagine the good doctor’s head is spinning with the amount of channels and messages utilized today. Short films, which follow the arch of the traditional story, are frequently perceived as art first and ads second — thus sidestepping any knee-jerk rejection by
— Spreading like wildfire
Consumers are not apt to pass along traditional marketing messages, unless there is a humorous error or controversial material. People do forward engaging short films, thereby increasing brand awareness and expanding relationship potential.
— Standing alone
Shorts can be used to support existing campaigns, but they may prove more valuable as a means of reaching audiences not targeted by other campaigns.


There’s a great deal of confusion in the marketing world as to what defines a short film. There are plenty of TV spots that follow the story arch and exhibit dramatic elements; there are also lots of short films that are so centered on the product or brand that they feel like really long ad.

Here are my suggested guidelines:

  • Extended ads — Product or brand centric, audience called to some kind of action, less than 3 minutes in length, inclusion of logo, slogan or tagline.
  •  Short film — Story centric, longer than 3 minutes, brand or product
    identifiers invisible or nearly invisible, no call to action.


Traditional short films are expensive and time-consuming to produce: Lighting, sound, editing, director, actors, location, transportation, etc. add up to a serious investment. One alternative may be to put the campaign in the hands of artists struggling to make names for themselves. Known as crowdsourcing, many firms have solicited completed projects from amateurs or professionals on the rise. The process reduces cost but releases control of the content.


Final Bark

Although the outbreak of short films is likely to subside with the economic standstill, more thorough definition of the tool will make for more appropriate use in the future.