Last year alone, $600 billion was spent on traditional advertising. But there is a new advertising approach happening right now, which is a throwback to a bygone age: Brands are shifting away from traditional TV commercials to funding and sponsoring documentaries, television programs and specials, and films. Brands will emerge as the film and TV moguls of the future.
Sponsored programs are not new. In the late ’40s, brands like Texaco and Admiral sponsored some of the earliest TV shows starring Milton Berle and Sid Caesar. In the 1950s and ’60s, the term “soap opera” was coined because shows were sponsored by soap brands like Procter & Gamble. In the successful TV series Perry Mason, (1957-1966) the protagonist drove a new car model in every episode, reflecting the different models of cars that the auto sponsor produced at the time. The insurance company Mutual of Omaha sponsored Wild Kingdom until they became firmly connected with the title.
The traditional advertising agency art-and-copy creative model was born in the 1930s for print advertising. A copywriter writes an ingenious print advert which is combined with eye-catching images from an art director. In the 1960s the real “Mad Men” came along and in conjunction with the world-wide explosion of TV sets in every home, they invented the 30 second hard sell spots for the captive TV audience. In other words, they modified their existing methods of advertising to match the trends of the time and made the changing marketplace an opportunity for incredible growth.
Today, every brand and everyone in the advertising and broadcast industries are faced with a similar challenge – and opportunity. Our challenge now is that consumers are no longer watching traditional TV. Most consumers under the age of 40 do not have cable. The future of advertising is transforming, shifting away from television, billboards and magazine ads to platforms like Netflix, HULU and Amazon.
The 30 second commercial is dying. Consumers ignore or fast forward through ads on their smart phone or computer. In order to reach customers, brands are now in the content business. So far, many brands and marketers have attempted to create long commercials as the solution to this challenge, calling them “branded content.” However, the Urban Dictionary‘s definition of this type of branded content is: “Long, boring advertisements on YouTube that no-one in their right mind would ever watch.”
How do forward-looking brands and advertising agencies adapt to this brave new world?
In 2013, Werner Herzog directed a 35 minute PSA film for AT&T, which was a huge internet and critical success – “Werner Herzog: From One Second to the Next.” The film has now been screened in over 40,000 schools and colleges. That film worked because it was positioned as a documentary short film and not a commercial. The focus was on the storytelling and the emotional message, not the brand itself. Many forward looking brands and advertising agencies are adapting to the same model.
Brands and advertising agencies have to create stories that people actually want to watch. They need to create content where the brand’s value is embedded within the story. Mutual of Omaha supported Wild Kingdom because it reflected the brand’s family values and the show had an amazingly successful run from 1963 to 1988.
The younger generation of consumers want innovation and engagement – to be entertained through actual story-driven films. Red Bull has long been far ahead of other brands in creative marketing and creating short films that people want to watch. The Red Bull “Stratos Space Jump” not only broke several records, it was watched by millions of people live on YouTube. The Redbull cans were nowhere to be seen but the brand solidified the perception of Red Bull as a high-adrenaline lifestyle brand that we have today.
Young people (the Millennial Generation) have been dubbed an idealistic generation who emphasize social change. They want to support brands that do good. This means that a brand’s products and services must reflect a young person’s value system. Young people are less likely to support fast food or soft drinks because they know they are unhealthy. The Werner Herzog film “From One Second to the Next” became a marketing success because of, not in spite of, the film’s authentic call for social change.
Forward-looking brands and advertising agencies are partnering with production companies and film makers who can bridge both worlds. In the future, many of the new short films, documentaries and TV that people actually want to watch will be paid for by cutting edge brands and advertisers.
At the same time, the traditional movie studios seemed to have morphed their approach into the toy business. According to George Lucas, “All the money is in the action figures.” Disney has cornered the market in Star Wars, PIXAR and Marvel toys.
The Millennials are the main consumers of the future. In order for the ad industry to survive the current changes to the marketplace, the $600 billion which is spent annually on selling young people stuff they don’t want will be funneled into stories and content that they actually do care about.