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The Advertising/Content Revolution

Old ideas often pop up as new ideas to a new generation. Brand sponsored entertainment, documentaries, and Internet content is just one of the ways this is happening today.

By Rupert Maconick, Founder/President, Saville Productions

Rupert Maconick

Rupert Maconick

There is an advertising revolution taking place. Although last year $600 billion was spent on traditional advertising, there is a new advertising approach happening which is a throwback to a bygone age: brands are shifting away from traditional TV commercials to funding and sponsoring documentaries, films, and television programs and specials. With this approach, 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 1950’s and 60’s, the term “soap opera” was coined because shows were sponsored by soap brands from powerhouse companies such as Procter & Gamble. In the successful TV series Perry Mason (1957-1966), the protagonist drove a new car in every episode during the first season, reflecting the different models of cars that the two alternating auto sponsors, Ford and GM, produced at the time. Mason drives a Ford Skyliner, then in the next episode, it’s a black Cadillac convertible. Paul Drakes’ car varies between a Corvette and a Thunderbird.

The traditional advertising agency art-and-copy creative model was born in the 1930’s for print advertising.  A copywriter writes an ingenious print advert which is combined with eye-catching images from an art director. In the 1960’s the real “Mad Men” came along and in conjunction with the world-wide explosion of TV, with sets in every home, they invented the 30-second hard sell spots for this new captive 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, everyone in the advertising and broadcast industries, along with every brand, is 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. Many brand 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.” If that’s the case, how do forward-looking brands and advertising agencies adapt to this brave new world?

In 2013, our company, Saville, produced a 35-minute long, Werner Herzog-directed PSA film for AT&T, which was a critical and internet success: Werner Herzog: From One Second to the Next. The premise of the film was a look at how ridiculously tempting it can be to text while driving. The phone lights up. It’s right there on the seat next to you. Maybe a fast glance wouldn’t be so bad. From One Second to the Next examined lethal situations from both the victims and perpetrators’ perspectives to show just how devastating texting while driving can be.

The film was commissioned by AT&T and was shown at over 40,000 high schools, colleges, safety groups, and government agencies across the country. “What AT&T proposed immediately clicked and connected inside of me,” Herzog says. “There’s a completely new culture out there. I’m not a participant in texting and driving—or texting at all—but I see there’s something going on in civilization which is coming with great vehemence at us.”

The 35-minute film describes, in excruciating detail, four accidents that resulted when a driver was texting behind the wheel. To drive the message home, Herzog hosts some interviews at the scenes of the accidents and has police officers show photographs of the wreckage. From One Second to the Next worked because it was positioned as a documentary short film and not as a commercial. The focus was on the storytelling and the emotional message, not the brand itself.

Another project our company recently produced that exemplified this theme was for Canon—a documentary by acclaimed director Michael Apted (The Up Series, Masters of Sex, The World Is Not Enough). Entitled Bending the Light, the project presented a revealing look at the art of filmmaking and photography. The film explored the relationship between the artisans who craft camera lenses and the masters of light who use these lenses to capture their art form.

Bending the Light

Bending the Light

Bending the Light featured never-before-seen footage from inside a premier Japanese lens factory (Canon’s), intimate interviews with lens engineers, and a peek into the world of award-winning photographers and cinematographers Greg Gorman, Simon Bruty, Laura El-Tantawy, Richard Barnes, and Stephen Goldblatt, ASC.

Regarding the genesis of Bending the Light, director Apted explains, “Canon wanted to open up their factory to a film crew and to come up with an idea of how they could present their product—not in an industrial or commercial way, but in a cultural way. So we asked, ‘What about finding people who use Canon lenses and people who make them and somehow tell the story that intertwines both?’ The real challenge that appealed to me was the way people use these lenses and make wonderful works of art. In a sense, their art is intertwined with the great pride of making these beautiful lenses and the thought of presenting this technology in a creative and artistic way, rather than doing a technological or an industrial film. I thought it was very appealing, so I went for it.”

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 TV’s 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 wants 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, for example, not only broke several records, it was watched by millions of people on YouTube. Red Bull cans were nowhere to be seen, but the brand solidified the perception of Red Bull as a high-adrenaline lifestyle brand.

Felix Baumgartner (C), Joseph Kittinger (R), and host Guido Schwarz seen during a panel discussion about the Stratos project in the IMAX Theater at the Swiss Museum of Transport in Lucerne, Switzerland on Feb. 27, 2015. Photo: Red Bull

Felix Baumgartner (C), Joseph Kittinger (R), and host Guido Schwarz seen during a panel discussion about the Stratos project in the IMAX Theater at the Swiss Museum of Transport in Lucerne, Switzerland on Feb. 27, 2015. Photo: Red Bull

Young people (the Millennial Generation) have been dubbed an idealistic generation that emphasizes 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. 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 filmmakers who can bridge both worlds. In the future, many of the new short films, documentaries, and TV shows 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. Indeed, in the very near future, cutting-edge brands will connect with their consumers by funding or sponsoring the next impactful and socially relevant documentary, independent film, or television series. Will it be yours?

December 29, 2016