OPINION: What Avatar, Titanic and Harry Potter can teach you about advertising

Ben Taylor
By Ben Taylor | 25 October 2012
Ben Taylor, Head of Strategy at Vizeum Sydney

Creativity. Storytelling. Emotion. The pillars of great advertising celebrated each year at the Cannes Festival. Looking along the street to that other famous Cannes festival, which celebrates all that is wonderful in the world of film, what can our noisy neighbours remind us of when it comes to brand building?

1. We both want influential properties that creates demand
Great stories stay longer in the mind, get talked about, get acted on. Some explore new frontiers, some explore the familiar. Movies can create paths in life that you would never have previously explored or simply remind us of what is most important.

People actively seek out movies, form large queues in fact. They achieve the ultimate end goal for any advertiser, to have an audience that’s engaged and willing to pay a premium for the value the brand provides. And though that may sound simple, it’s incredibly hard to do.

We’re now seeing brands working increasingly hard to give value to customers outside of their core product offering. Brands such as Red Bull (disclaimer: our client) have established a content and event business to both build brand equity and as a revenue stream.

2. Technology makes great thinking better. It’s not a substitute in its own right
Despite the race to embrace new technology, such as CGI and 3D, the story is still the key component for long lasting movie success. How many kids movies or sci-fi epics have forgotten the key ingredients of storytelling? None of the successful ones at least. How many brands have rushed to create apps or social media platforms without understanding their purpose in our lives?

3. Global properties recognise cultural archetypes
Movies can cut through local multi-cultural differences to appeal to people living very different lives in very different parts of the world. The highest-grossing movie to date is Avatar, which knocked Titanic off the top in 2009, ending a 12 year reign for Kate and Leo. The common thread between globally successful films is to tell a story that resonates across cultures.

Like the movies our brands and advertising increasingly have a global focus. Whether you're a global company like Unilever with presence in Asia, Europe and the US, or a local company like Barons Beer exporting all the way round the world, the story that connects your brand is at its strongest when it recognises cultural archetypes that can appeal to mass audiences.

4. Planning for longevity makes more money in the long run
The movie world does franchises very well. The top 20 films of all time is scattered with them; Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Shrek amongst them. Great franchises have a plan for the future before they start and each new episode builds the brand. They have longevity because of their foundations. So many advertisements are relevant for a particular moment in time without planning for long-term brand appeal and consistency. If marketers took the approach of franchise-builders, each ad would simply be a new chapter for the brand rather than starting from scratch.

5. Engagement runs deeper than face value
The way movie studios measure a ‘hit’ has become more scientific, just like advertising. The practice of “neurocinema”, where brain feedback helps movie-makers evaluate, craft and refine the responses from a subconscious level is giving a wholly accurate picture of true engagement. Think of the developments in neuromarketing that understand brands as memory patterns and you’re getting to another level of thinking and measurement.

Maybe if neuro testing had been available for Battlefield Earth they could have given us those two hours of our lives back. Maybe for Showgirls I would have wanted to see it anyway?

As marketers and advertisers these are things we know but often lose sight of in the rush for the now. Everyone’s a critic of course. But only a few truly create. Great films tap into core human motivations. So next time you’re faced with a new brief, take a moment and ask yourself – what would Peter Jackson do? And go from there.

Ben Taylor
Head of Strategy
Vizeum Sydney

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