Jane Austin: can film survive in a mobile-mad ad world?

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Cannes Lions has long been referred to as adland’s Oscars. And in the same spirit, much excitement has long revolved around who will win the Film Grand Prix. But the extent to which this is still valid is debateable in the landscape in which brand owners and agencies now compete: a digital world of cross-platform campaigns and platform-neutral creativity.

“Inside the Palais des Festivals on Saturday night, the anticipation and desire to get to the Film awards will be palpable,” Laura Gregory, chairman and executive producer at Great Guns predicts. But should it still be that way?


Looked at one way, the widespread residual hankering for film – and film plaudits – feels a bit like nostalgia for a Golden Age.

The extent to which the world of advertising creativity has been revolutionised by digital is well-documented. As has a decline in traditional TV viewing and the corresponding reduction in TV ad spend.

Meanwhile in its recent ’30 Most Creative People in Advertising’ ranking, Business Insider wrote of the many creatives “still keeping the spirit of advertising’s glory years alive with their campaigns” with mainly film work cited to justify its Top Five: Lucky Generals co-founders Danny Brooke-Taylor, Helen Calcraft and Andy Nairn; adam&eve/DDB CCO Ben Priest and first-positioned Droga5 CCO Ted Roya.

But the facts tell a somewhat different story.

Last year, UK marketers spent £21.4bn on advertising, up 3.7 per cent, making 2016 the seventh year of consecutive growth with digital formats dominating – internet ad spend was up 13.4 per cent to £10.3bn, with mobile accounting for 99 per cent of that growth and ad spend for mobile platforms up a whopping 45.4 per cent to £3.9bn.

Despite such impressive growth for digital advertising channels however, traditional ad spend is holding. TV ad spend hit a record high of £5.3bn in 2016, with growth driven by a 12.6 per cent rise in video-on-demand ad revenues. Cinema and radio advertising also grew – up eight per cent and 5.4 per cent, respectively.

The take-out is simple. People’s traditional habit of viewing commercials on the medium of broadcast TV may be fading, but their consumption of – and hence brand owners’ demand for – quality TV ads and other forms of brand film content consumer on digital platforms is anything but. Which points to another, and more profound reason why the industry’s enduring passion for and preoccupation with the Film category at Cannes is ‘on trend’: the growing emphasis on storytelling.

The best and most celebrated ads have always been those that tell great stories because the best creatives know the key to winning over consumers is to share stories that are worthy of their time. And those stories most likely to capture an audience’s attention are ones that connect and emotionally engage – two key strengths of film.

“It’s all about being human,” says Cheil Worldwide global CCO Malcolm Poynton (left). “Nothing tops emotion and film is quite simply the most powerful and accessible medium for emotion.”

Producer Gregory says: “Film can make us laugh, cry, question. It is at the heart of what engages us and connect us. It is true emotion through storytelling, and film will always be just that. The reason the jury awarded Under Armour’s ‘Rule Yourself’ with Michael Phelps (below) the Grand Prix in Film Craft last year was pure emotion because it touched the hearts of eleven professionals.

“Film has no age barrier. Where tech is clever, tech is fun, tech is part of our future, tech is still – for the most part – cold.”

Film is the best way to connect with people on a one-way channel, according to Anders Wahlquist, founder and CEO of B-Reel. “You have absolute control of your story. You can craft any details that you feel are important. You don’t need to listen to any feedback. You put something out and then your work is done.”

But as the world moves on, people’s desire for entertainment has moved on too.

Wahlquist says: “Innovation in storytelling is how we compete with the mediocrity that has filled this void: the addiction to smartphones and Facebook feeds. We need to shake the audiences awake and let them know that this is not good enough.”

“To do that, we need to find new ways to connect with people. Explore new mediums, new technologies and techniques that allow us to create that emotional connection in the same way that the silver screen has done since the 1900s.”

Innovation is hugely important to help brands connect in new ways and bring their offering to life in more relevant ways but as important is acknowledging how new technologies are refreshing and underlining the enduring power of film and film-based storytelling techniques.

For as Cheil’s Poynton observes: “Now that mobile has become a film-first medium, it’s put film back at the top.”

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About Jane Austin

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Jane Austin is the founder and owner of PR agency Persuasion Communications.

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    great piece Jane – Richard