Brand films deliver emotion that empty copy never could

Ben Bale, a speaker at this year's Brand Film Festival London, thinks brand films have a unique power.

Non-advertising people don’t talk about ads. They don’t talk about sponsorship, branded content or 360, omnichannel messaging frameworks. We all know this, because once – a very long time ago for some – we didn’t work in advertising.

In 2002, like all normal (read non-advertising) people, I wasn’t interested in brand films. What I was interested in was Marilyn Manson albums, Gary Oldman films and the murky and exciting history of Delta blues. If you’d have told me that almost 20 years later I’d vividly remember a BMW ad – including the shot choices and script – I would have laughed at you.

Yet in "Beat the devil", directed by Tony Scott, BMW created something that took my passions, my interests and a rebellious attitude I understood and kept me hooked to a nine-minute ad for a generic, corporate sedan. By the end of it, in my mind, BMW was the height of cool. I told my friends about it. I still do. It had dramatically changed my opinion and consideration of the brand in a way no 30-second model-launching spot ever could.

In 1986, Hasbro released a feature-length animated ad staring Orson Welles and Leonard Nimoy: The Transformers: The Movie. Within the first 10 minutes, they had killed off most of my heroes (including Optimus Prime – gasp!) and provided my parents with a long list of new toys to buy. I needed the new characters. Smack bang in the middle of the target audience, I repeatedly watched that film for years. In 2007, an entirely new generation did exactly the same thing again.

Moving out of the past into the present, Nokia Bell Labs has worked with world-renowned beatboxer Reeps One to create "We speak music", a six-part series that relaunches Nokia's ongoing desire to push the boundaries of artistic output through technology that has existed since the 1960s. It’s not a soulless tech demo, it’s a passionate investigation into the untapped power of human voices culminating in a demonstration of man and machine working together that has to be seen to be believed. As a demonstration of what the brand stands for, it can’t be beaten.

These three examples have some really simple things in common that I wish more brands, marketers and agencies treated as if they were handed down on stone tablets. First, they are driven by emotion, not product. BMW? The thrill of speed, of driving a performance car. Hasbro? The dream that heroes rise from difficult circumstances and you could be that hero. Nokia Bell Labs? Your voice and our technology can change the world. 

Secondly, they express the "why" of the brand, not the "what". They create a connection between audience and brand, showing a common purpose. Take Santander’s "Beyond money" – in a world where most people assume banks are unethical profit-über-alles organisations, the film aligns the brand with the sentiment that some things are more important than money. If it had said "we think some things are more important than money" on a giant billboard in Barcelona, people would have ignored them. It didn’t tell; it shared. That shared emotional experience delivers more than empty copy ever could.

A child experiencing an emotional rollercoaster through plastic toys. A rebellious teenager being convinced that a German sedan could be the height of rock and roll. A world seeing cutting-edge artificial intelligence not as heartless and scary but as a new way to understand who we are. That’s the power of brand films.

Ben Bale is creative innovation director at Drum. He is a speaker at the 2019 Brand Film Festival London, which takes place in 1 May. Visit here for more details 

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