Brands are challenged every day with finding new ways to connect with customers, from 6-second Vine videos (which threatened to change the industry and then disappeared) to advertiser-funded documentaries to web series and branded content. Consumer receptiveness to advertising messages continues to evolve as well. New expectations and demands are reshaping the media landscape.
Today, networks and cable channels are ringing their hands about cord-cutting, streaming services are up-ending the entertainment business and Netflix stock is trading close to $200 a share. Ever-younger consumers are less receptive to traditional television advertising. At the same time, it’s evident that they still care deeply about the products they choose (and their purchasing power is enormous).
This new crop of consumers doesn’t want to be "sold" to. Instead, they want to be drawn in with engaging content, regardless of how it might be delivered. Ironically, brands still only have a few seconds to hook the viewer’s attention. But now, instead of simply competing against messages from other brands, advertising content is having to go head-to-head with blockbuster Hollywood films, hit television shows and billion-dollar gaming franchises.
At one time, representing commercial directors was relatively straightforward. You would build a director’s reel using the best and most creative 30- and 60-second spots you could secure. Once in a blue moon, you might get a shot at a 2-minute spot for cinema or other specialty outlet. But today, the TV spot is often just a subset of a much broader content universe. Creative ideas, it would seem, have become media agnostic. Ideas have to work across a broad range of platforms and applications. More often than not, the brand message is subtle, if it is even apparent at all.
Today, advertising has come full circle. Brands know that in order to compete they have to deliver compelling characters and engaging stories that are an authentic part of a larger world. Crossover talent, more than ever, has a lot to offer. Unlike traditional commercial directors, film and television directors are already accustomed to playing a broader role in the creative process. For example, television directors often write and develop the material they later helm. Similarly, feature film directors have a unique understanding of the "roll out" process that typically involves multiple media platforms. There are carefully crafted teasers, trailers with "money shots" targeting various groups and geographic regions, social media tie-ins and other forms of strategic branding.
Now, television drives the zeitgeist. A client who wants to reach millennials can work with the director of ‘Girls," "Silicon Valley," "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" or "Modern Family." Similarly, clients wanting to connect with the ballsy raw appeal of "Ray Donovan" or a political thrill ride like "House of Cards" can tap that director.
Feature film directors continue to create cultural touchstones, just as they have for decades. If you have an action assignment, why wouldn’t you entrust it to the director of "Bourne Identity" or "Edge of Tomorrow"? If your project is high-concept and visually driven why wouldn’t you tap the shooter behind a film like "Ready Player One"? If it pushes the boundaries of narrative structure and demands multi-dimensional characters, why wouldn’t you enlist the writer-director of a film like "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby"?
Put simply, when advertisers engage crossover talent, they harness the power of formidable storytellers. The characters and stories they develop together can create a profound sense of empathy between the viewer and the brand. In a rapidly changing world, a strong narrative thread may just be the elusive grounding force that manages to keep style and substance in balance.
Susanne Preissler is Executive Producer and Founder of Independent Media.