How To... Create Long-Form Content That People Actually Want to Watch
Andy Lockley, executive creative director, Grey London, tackles such thorny issues as 'how long is too long?' and why First Man was a giant leap for Omega's advertising.
The first thing we’ve all got to agree on is what we mean by ‘long form’. People in advertising often say 'long form' to describe a three to five minute film. By these standards, eight to ten minutes is really long form.
But watch a Netflix documentary or a movie and ten minutes is hardly even past the intro titles. So, bear with us: for 50-odd years we’ve been working in increments of only 30 and 60 seconds. For the purpose of this piece, let’s just say anything longer than you can traditionally buy airtime for can probably be described as long form.
Ask yourself, why would anyone watch it?
Too many brands are simply adding to the long-form landfill without really taking time to think about whether they are putting something worth watching out there. Focus on the story the consumer actually wants to hear rather than what you want to say. This is a back-to-front way of thinking for the advertising industry, but it’s the way the entertainment industry has always worked.
Sometimes you click ‘play’ on a film created by a consumer brand and you learn nothing. You feel nothing. Sometimes it’s so bad it’s hard to imagine how the people behind it could have ever thought other anyone would find it entertaining.
"As well as where content is to be launched, think about when."
Platforms like Facebook, Youtube and Instagram, too, have given brands an incredible way to reach into the pockets of consumers – but this democratisation of content comes at a cost.
Unlike Netflix, HBO and Amazon Prime, who guarantee a degree of quality, social media has no editorial control. A brand can just make a film and upload it, and there’s generally far more bad than good on my news feed. This has enabled sceptical consumers to flex their skipping muscles and learn how to spot - and avoid - bad content.
Where’s the best place for it?
Most brand communications, film in particular, have multiple intended audiences that need navigating in order to create good content. First up is the consumer; that’s those who like the brand, and those the brand is trying to win over. Decent content always puts them first. Next is the company which owns the brand; its stakeholders, suppliers, customers, and investors. Then it’s the media, and finally competitors.
You have to think about the best context for your film content. Where is it most likely to be seen and enjoyed? One of the reasons our Human Made Stories film series for Volvo UK has been such a success is down to our partnership with Sky Atlantic, who house the films on their on-demand service.
Partnerships with media owners can enable brands to reach a premium audience with powerful, emotional stories – told to an audience that is already engaged and in the right frame of mind to watch the stories you want to tell. In this way, associations can also act as a mark of approval or a quality filter for the content.
But as well as where content is to be launched, think about when. Try to become part of the wider conversation.
How long is too long?
Some experts think between 30-60 is ‘optimal’ time length for social media. Certainly, even three or four minutes is ambitious. People are highly unlikely to watch more than ten minutes of branded content.
Yet, three small words flatten that argument: The Lego Movie. This is a film that had potential disaster written all over it. Imagine how bad this could have turned out – nobody wants to watch a two hour long advert.
Fortunately, in this instance, the brand and the studio were aligned on the creative vision. Lego understood it didn’t need to force brand messages into this piece. It saw the magic in creating an engaging film for its own sake, effectively handing over creative control to the film-makers to do what they did best. And it worked. The company reported a 15% increase in sales when the film (which was great) came out.
On a similar note, the latest film for Omega watches, First Man, proved that two hours and 21 minutes is absolutely fine. Directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Ryan Gosling, the film features three different Omega watches, on the wrists of Neil Armstrong and all the other astronauts and ground crew. Omega has been a NASA partner since the 1960s – the story of the Moon landing couldn’t have been told authentically without their involvement in the film.
Despite being 141 minutes long, of the millions who’ve watched it worldwide, so far the ‘drop off’ rate is incredibly low, with almost every person watching it all the way to the end. So I guess it’s not so much ‘how long’ should the story be, but ‘how good is it’?
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