When the word commercial comes to mind, it often brings up connotations of a heavy handed, 30 to 60-second pitch as to why a company or product is the best on Earth. The tiring approach is decades old, and it can be argued that it is quickly becoming taboo in the mainstream marketing efforts of leading corporate businesses. Branded video content in the digital age is under the constant need to stay relevant and engaging, not only to its current customer base, but the untapped market as well. Continuing the tradition of in-your-face bragging may not be the best approach to promoting one’s brand culture and product effectiveness, and the evidence is in the current trend of what is being dubbed “branded video content.”
“When storytellers wade into the deep end of the emotional pool, even the slightest sense of insincerity is sensed by the audience. Human interaction, emotion and relationship is deeply ingrained in our DNA and it’s incredibly difficult to replicate it in fiction. Yes, it takes creative thinking, but it, first and foremost takes empathic understanding.”
Thomas Stat – Founder and Lead Advisor of Yonder Group
Defining “Branded” in video marketing
Branded video content — at its highest level — seems to be more of a catch phrase than an actual niche or genre. However, when one digs deeper into the elements of what makes up branded content, a pattern or formula begins to emerge. If we look at traditional narratives in film or television, most stories follow a three-act structure: thesis + antithesis = synthesis. The main theme or idea makes up the thesis, the antithesis is an element that contradicts or challenges this thesis, and synthesis is the resolution of these two components. Branded video content and video marketing in general follows in a remotely similar oxymoron format, with the same goals as film: to not only entertain, but enlighten. The final seed that puts the “branded” in the sentence is the infusion of a corporate brand or identity. Spreading company culture and highlighting product effectiveness through passive marketing, where the calls-to-action are persuasive punctuation as opposed to wear-it-on-your-sleeve statements. Boiling these elements into a single equation, we move from thesis to theme, adding an engaging story or visual that incites emotional conflict, equaling our synthesis, the call-to-action. To support this formulaic concept, we can look to existing examples.
Samsung’s virtual reality spot
Samsung released a Virtual Reality gear advertisement in March of 2017 as part of their video marketing strategy. Rather than have a spokesperson highlight the product and discuss why Virtual Reality is the next great thing, they crafted a clever narrative around an Ostrich curiously – almost accidentally – snatching up a VR headset and entering a world of flight. As the digital display of the headset featured soaring clouds, we are reminded of the flightless bird’s conflict as it sprints along the savannah, others of its kind watching and waiting. As an audience, we sympathize for our underdog Ostrich as it suffers from its evolutionary defects, however the beauty in the subject is that we see this bird reacting to the wonder of soaring through the clouds, something it was never able to experience without Samsung’s Virtual Reality rig. Samsung goes so far as to defy our expectations of a somber ending, by actually showing the animal lift off the ground, as if to say with our VR tech, you can reach new heights, the impossible. Except Samsung did not have to say it with words. They used the power of visuals. The final tagline, “#DoWhatYouCant,” in what may be the closest thing yet to dethroning Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign, sums it all up – aspiration and imagination, challenge and reality and action – Thesis – Antithesis > Synthesis.
P&G’s Olympic Games Advertisement
A second example of the theme + conflict = call-to-action is a peace from P&G titled “Thank You Mom,” made to highlight the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. In a heartfelt, two-minute video we see a number of children and their respective mothers try and fall during different activities: skating, snowboarding, even walking. As they grow, their mothers are at their sides, continuously picking them back up and setting them on their feet. The piece concludes with each child as an adult, competing in the Olympic Games, with the proud mothers in the audiences, accepting silent nods of gratitude from their children. With a theme expressed from P&G as Thank you, Mom, our conflict is also highlighted in the video as teaching us that falling, only makes us stronger. P&G used a “slice of life” style of filming and storytelling that offered us a powerful, emotional narrative while simultaneously promoting the Olympics and P&G’s call-to-action of supporting mothers. No products are mentioned until the end when brand logos are displayed. The entire piece positions P&G as the “Proud Sponsor of Mom’s.”
Lookingglass Theatre’s Connection Ad
To round out the final example, Lookingglass Theatre’s spot written, directed, and produced by Thomas Stat. Lookingglass’ piece is a showcase to the power of subtlety, often overlooked by today’s advertisers. With half the video appearing as simple, white text on screen, presented in irony in that the content notes how we as a people have lost personal, face-to-face contact, preferring to use our devices, almost entrapped and disconnected by them. Surfacing the fraudulent truths that technology supposedly is bringing us closer together, keeping us more connected and engaged. Accented by a riveting piano score composed by Elliot Callighan, the initial somber tone and text act as a mirror to our own guilt. Materializing the fact that our permanent connection to our devices is moving us away from the true human nature of emotional connectivity. The perfect delivery of conflict. Combated with an exciting uplift of Callighan’s score, punctuated with a slideshow of colorful and exciting images from performances at the theater, each flourishing with a range of emotion, we are offered our solution to escape the cold screens of our devices. It is only then at the end Lookingglass presents their call-to-action, a “join” not an “ask”: play a part in our story.
Marketing Through Empathy
Overall, it is safe to say that we as humans all relate to stories about the human condition, or certain facets of relation that we all feel as people. Corporations and businesses understand that people buy based on emotion. By taking the element of filmmaking, which at its core is geared toward eliciting some emotional connection to an audience, and marrying it with branded video marketing, we are given a unique way to impact viewers by showing them who or what a company’s culture, product, or message is by bringing them on a journey rather than telling them what they should believe. It is a matter of suggestion through powerful, emotionally rich statements and stories that is changing the name of marketing for the future. Key to this emotional story is engaging the empathy of the viewer in a very real and authentic way. By approaching advertising from the perspective of story, companies are able to connect to a fundamental fiber deeply rooted in all human beings since we began walking the earth. If you can show us a human truth by telling us a story, you are holding up a mirror with which we will find not a reflection, but rather an inherent emotional attachment to your message, thus your product.