Do Long-Form Commercials Accomplish Business Goals or Are They Just High Art?
One of the wink-wink, nudge-nudge “jokes” among New Yorkers is that when the New York Times finally gets around to writing about something, it’s already passé. So when I saw Jonah Weiner’s article about long-form commercials, I had an inward, obnoxious, self-congratulatory chuckle about how I’d already known about the trend for years.
Then I took a step back.
I realized it’s time to admit there’s something new going on with long-form commercials — they’re achieving high-art status that’s accomplishing the brand awareness marketers were trying to reach all along.
Even as Weiner questions exactly that, saying on Jan. 8 that he doubts the brands are achieving their goals by not getting conversions out of the commercials, I instead believe marketers are doing exactly what they set out to do. These aren’t ads seeking immediate sales. These are emotional, thought-provoking pieces that are sometimes short films.
In many cases, the brands work with nonprofits to tell the story of that partnership in almost a documentary form, so those commercials are brand-light.
In Weiner’s defense, he does mention that he knows these types of commercials have been around for years. Their recent viral status on social media is a bit new, though. And, continuing in his defense, I’ll say it does take old-school newspapers a long time to accept that something’s a trend. In fact, I couldn’t even find that word in his piece.
Full disclosure: Even as I rip on the Times, I respect it. Heck, even though I now live in Philadelphia, I still work for the paper as a contract freelance reporter. (It’s not a conflict with this job, as I don’t write about marketing for the Times and I don’t report on Philadelphia news for Target Marketing.)
The history of advertising is often cast as an arms race between ever-craftier pitchmen on one side and ever-savvier audiences on the other, who invariably get wise to old techniques of manipulation, necessitating the development of new techniques that are savvier still. Spots like the Clio ad — long-form “branded narratives” in which the product on offer is glimpsed only passingly, if it’s shown at all — exemplify a subcategory of commercial that isn’t brand-new, exactly (we’ve seen versions for years during Super Bowls), but that seems particularly well suited to the social-media ecosystems where we spend so much of our time these days.
Videos are aimed at tapping into emotion, marketers say.
Marketers know most of their TV ads will live on past their first airing, on the Internet and via various social media networks. So they ensure the commercials will resonate with those audiences, too.
For Mercedes-Benz, that meant that its 2017 Super Bowl ad directed by Hollywood’s Coen brothers and starring Peter Fonda (who has since passed away), was about nostalgia. The ad enabled the generation that revered Fonda’s iconic film “Easy Rider” to laugh at aging and at themselves, then realize they were still cool. Fonda didn’t even appear until the mood was set that the star of the 60-second commercial appeared to be the mystique of biker culture. Then bikers saw the car, then Fonda, then Fonda drove away in the car.
Longer pieces allow marketers to display their brand values, says Marc S. Pritchard, chief brand officer, Procter & Gamble. His words resonate with advertisers who see him as a thought leader and hear his words as their own call to action. When Pritchard spoke in September at Advertising Week New York, he urged marketers to be creative storytellers.
Pritchard said longer-form pieces with light brand touches embed brand values in a bigger concept.
The example he showed was of nonprofit partnerships P&G had had for 30 years, but that its customers may not have learned about until seeing the video. Another reason the brand values resonated with P&G customers is they didn’t even understand the issue the products they used solved for others.
I reported on Pritchard’s presentation in September:
Menstruation keeps girls out of school in many countries where there’s deep shame and stigma surrounding the natural aspect of human biology that many Americans take for granted as routine. The shame and stigma result from more than not being able to afford sanitary products, like the ones P&G donates to those girls.
So even as educators worked to teach the girls — and boys who had been bullying the girls — about their periods, Americans were learning about that effort via programming from P&G, National Geographic, and Global Citizen.
Target Marketing blogger Peter J. Rosenwald now knows that he and I disagree.
He comments on the Times piece in its comments section on Friday:
This amazingly perceptive article should be required reading for every marketer.
Its message is that the 'hyper-creativity' that is the arrogant conceit of many advertising agencies can and often does overwhelm its ability to sell the product that is paying for the creation and distribution of the advertising.
As a marketing specialist, my eyes tear when I see this excessive 'creativity' that may win self-serving industry kudos and prizes, but will fail in its job of promising real benefits to consumers.
What do you think, marketers?
Please respond in the comments section below. If you have long-form commercials to share, please do so below.
Related story: P&G’s Pritchard Urges Ad Creativity in Latest Industry CTA