Viral videos from brands – content for content’s sake?

3 recent films (ad films) that I recently stumbled upon made me think very, very hard.

All three films moved me immensely. They are gorgeously scripted, mounted and produced. They are thoroughly engaging and you will easily sit through them despite their lengths being 3+ minutes (the first 2; the third is shorter, at 1:50 minutes).

The first film: “The Story of Lucy”

The second film: “To Give More”

The third film: “What would Christmas be without love?”

There is a reason why I haven’t mentioned the brands behind these films; this blog post is precisely about that.

As I had mentioned earlier, these films are fabulously produced and wonderful to watch. The first film is by Windex, a glass cleaning solution! The Indian equivalent is Colin. Now, imagine Colin producing this film.

The second film is by Elkjøp (known as Elgiganten outside Norway), is the largest consumer electronics retailer in the Nordic countries, with 400 stores in 6 countries and 10,000 employees. A rough Indian equivalent could be Croma. Imagine Croma producing this film.

The third film is by Erste Group, one of the largest financial services providers in Central and Eastern Europe serving 15.7 million clients in over 2,700 branches in 7 countries. A rough Indian equivalent would be HDFC Bank. Now, imagine HDFC Bank producing such a film.

The thread that connects these films are,
a. they are superbly produced and are highly watchable. They have also gone massively viral, been shared a LOT online. They evoke that reaction in viewers… to feel compelled to share them.
b. They don’t feature the product logo anywhere except the last shot.
c. They don’t connect directly back to what the product/service promise is, in all 3 cases! In the first film, the glass is shown twice. In the 2nd film, the toy was purchased from Elkjøp. In the 3rd film, there is nothing about Erste Group, except for the fact that it “builds on our core values“, according to the Group’s Head of Brand Management.

The 3rd part is my point in this post. These are great content… for content’s sake. To take advantage of viral word-of-mouth, to let people act as media to spread the word. But spread the word about what? Great script and film made by the brands’ advertising agencies that have hardly any connect for us to remember about the respective brands ‘behind’ them?

Case in point: the Erste Group film is going hugely viral on Twitter with an edited version that has no brand logo in the end!

That reminds me of brands sponsoring TV shows. The TV shows themselves are widely watched, discussed and remembered. The brands that sponsor them intervene at select points to remind viewers about the brands that helped ‘present’ the TV program. But, at least, in that case, the brands got to speak about themselves and the service/products they offer even as they do not have anything related to the content of the TV shows.

Here, these films are shared extensively, while the brands are invisible and not even shown in any context of their use. Even Windex’s film has a very, very distant and tenuous connection (the dad sees the baby through the glass!!). I literally was guessing the product behind that film since I wasn’t aware of Windex or what it sold. It could be virtually any product that is featured across the film, including a maternity hospital brand that is also featured twice!

Do these brands expect people to not only share these films (which has happened, understandably; full marks to the agencies) but also remember the brands behind them, get curious about them (and their products and services) and somehow recall them when there is a contextual need in their lives?

I do feel that’s asking for a LOT. Now that it is established that producing content for content’s sake (as against content for product’s/service’s/brand’s sake, and making that more enjoyable while retaining that context – that’s true creativity anyway) is a legitimate trend, how do you think these films help the respective brands?

For context, it is not impossible to produce compelling films for these categories of products/services. For instance, I had written about John Lewis’s Christmas films recently, the one that features Elton John. But the reason why I wrote about it is not to comment about that one film, but to showcase the fact that the brand has invested consistently since 2011 to build on that kind of story-telling as a property. So, when you see the piano in that Elton John film, you know it is available in a John Lewis store. I’m not sure if you can say the same about the toy being available in an Elkjøp store. It’s perhaps available on Amazon too, much like the piano. But there’s significant history that brings John Lewis in context, while the same cannot be said about Elkjøp.

As for Windex, there is the famously funny Super Bowl ad film for Mr.Clean:

It’s not as compellingly shareable as the Windex film, of course, since the emotions it evokes are very different from Windex’s sentimental film. And it conveys the product’s benefit directly, but with a fun element embedded in it.

When it comes to banks and finance, there are way too many ad films that showcase bank-related products and services in compelling, shareable ways while also referring to the product/service being communicated.

So, the question is this: is it ok to bypass the product/service context to make a viral film that uses people as media? I agree that people may not want to share a video that portrays a brand upfront, but if it evokes a emotion and a visceral reaction in viewers, they still may/will. So, is it okay to produce videos that put the script for a potential viral first, over and above the product/service that is bankrolling that effort? That is, ‘entertain and engage first, the brand connect may happen later, if at all’?