When Beats by Dr. Dre wanted to promote its headphones in time for the World Cup, it didn’t rely on a 30-second TV spot or online banner ad. Instead, it created a mini-movie showing the pre-game rituals of soccer stars Neymar, Cesc Fabregas and Luis Suarez.
The five-minute film, called “The Game Before The Game,” racked up more than 9 million views on YouTube in just one week. Beats isn’t the only brand trying out long-form content. To promote its Helix Ultra motor oil, Royal Dutch Shell Plc sent Oscar winner Adrien Brody on a driving challenge through a Malaysian jungle for a series on Discovery Channel.
The strategy, known as content marketing, and its role in capturing some of the projected $544 billion in media ad spending, will draw attention as top advertising executives gather on the French Riviera for the Cannes Lions festival, which runs through June 21. As ad agencies hire producers, directors and writers to create longer content, they are increasingly looking like TV or movie studios.
“This type of advertising is more effective because it’s targeting a specific audience,” said Mark Eaves, a co-founder of London-based advertising agency Gravity Road. “Content spending is growing massively every year as some brands are starting to think in terms of the audience and not just the consumer anymore.”
It worked for Shell. “Driven to Extremes” has aired in more than 70 countries since March 2013, attracting 60 million TV viewers and boosting the number of hits on the Shell Helix YouTube channel to 6.8 million. People who saw it said they were 30 percent to 40 percent more likely to buy the product.
“We wanted to demonstrate the effectiveness of Shell Helix without being very direct about it, and we wanted consumers to draw their own conclusions,” said Americo Campos Silva, global media manager at Shell Brands International in London.
As consumers click away Internet pop-up ads and record TV shows to fast-forward through ad breaks, other brands are paying agencies such as Interpublic Group of Cos. -- whose R/GA unit produced “The Game Before The Game” -- to create short films, documentaries and TV series. While only 5 percent to 7 percent of the brands commit to this type of format, the number is growing because it can better target audiences and boost credibility, according to Ogilvy Entertainment.
Companies don’t need a big budget for such marketing and many brands are moving away from $1 million commercials, said Doug Scott, president of Ogilvy Entertainment, a unit of the world’s biggest advertising agency. A three-to-five minute film typically costs $250,000 to $300,000, and can run across different platforms, surrounded with social media and pitched by public relations, Scott said.
Ogilvy Entertainment created three-minute films for electronics maker Royal Philips NV, including one featuring MRI medical-scanning technology and a cancer patient, and another with Argentines praising an electric kettle that shuts off when the water is hot enough for a cup of yerba mate. Marks & Spencer Group Plc, the U.K. clothing retailer, filmed spots with celebrities talking about moments in their life, with no mention of the brand.
Volkswagen AG took yet another approach, teaming up with electronic music group Underworld to develop an application that creates music in real time in response to the movement of a Golf GTI car.
Volkswagen’s “Play The Road,” which showed the software being tested, had 3.5 million views. Fans could also enter a competition to drive a Golf GTI and try the app for themselves at a track day.
“If a brand brings you information of value that’s educating or entertaining you, and connecting emotionally to you, you will tweet about that, or tell a friend,” Scott said.
Industry executives credit Bayerische Motoren Werke AG for changing the way products are advertised about 15 years ago when it started a series of eight short films by directors such as Ang Lee, Guy Ritchie and Tony Scott, with stars including Clive Owen, Madonna and Forest Whitaker. The series attracted more than 100 million viewers at the time. They were so popular BMW later released a DVD compilation.
Bacardi Ltd.’s Bombay Sapphire gin even won a BAFTA award for British Short Film from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in February. It was generated from the brand’s “Imagination Series” competition set up with London’s Gravity Road. Contestants downloaded a script penned by Oscar-winning writer Geoffrey Fletcher that lacked any stage directions and used it to create their own.
More than 170,000 people downloaded the draft and the winner was “Room 8,” a short feature about a prisoner who suffers the consequences from opening a box after his cellmate urged him not to. The film premiered along with four other finalists from the “Imagination Series” at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
This year’s Cannes Lions is running the usual star-studded event, featuring beach parties with DJ Calvin Harris and singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding and conversations with Bono, Courtney Love and Sarah Jessica Parker. It’s also drawing Yahoo! Inc. President Marissa Mayer, Home Box Office Inc. Chief Executive Officer Richard Plepler and Time Warner Inc. CEO Jeffrey Bewkes.
Today’s highlights feature on-stage appearances by David Hasselhoff, in a seminar devoted to building a creative campaign, actor Patrick Stewart on live storytelling with Twitter Inc. and American Express Co. executives, and a session from A&E Television Networks LLC on creativity at the media company.
Highlights for tomorrow include Yahoo!’s Mayer, recording artist Imogen Heap and executives from Calvin Klein Inc., Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo. Inc.
The 14-company Bloomberg World Advertising Index has dropped 3.4 percent this year. Interpublic has gained almost 10 percent. WPP Plc, Omnicom Group Inc. and Publicis Groupe have each lost more than 6 percent.
“Brands need to have a very different relationship with consumers,” said James Morris, head of Mediacom Beyond Advertising, which worked on the Shell TV shows. “There needs to be deeper engagement and the route to do that is to engage with cultural experiences.”
(An earlier version of this story was corrected to fix the spelling of Adrien Brody.)