3 Auto Brand Films, 3 Vital Lessons in Storytelling

Auto brands have a long history with film. Over the years we’ve seen some truly stellar offerings, from Volvo’s epic Leave the World Behind to Infiniti’s groundbreaking responsive film Deja View. Not only do automakers know how to rack up the online views, but they create work that stays with consumers long after they’ve closed YouTube.

What makes these companies so skilled at crafting narratives? It seems they know the secret trifecta of strategies that ensure films will resonate with viewers. Let’s take a look at three recent brand films and the vital storytelling lessons they teach.

Film: GMC’s The Sharp American
Lesson: Emody the Core Characteristics of the Brand

At this year’s New York Men’s Fashion Week, the first of its kind, you could find the usual sights: anticipated collections, stylish attendees, and intermittent experiential marketing campaigns. However, on the evening of American designer Michael Bastian’s show, fashion lovers got something more: a short film by automaker GMC called The Sharp American. It was intended to highlight “the parallels between impeccable dressing and the precise features in a GMC Yukon Denali.”

Sound like a stretch? In fact, the brand film – which featured Bastian himself, along with musician Twin Shadow and photographer Michael Avedon – fit right into New York Fashion Week: Men’s. In the film, each artist describes his work and process in a way that mirrors GMC’s depiction of itself and its products in its current “Precision” ad campaign. The narrative reflects the differentiating characteristics of the product in an environment where GMC’s target customer already has quality and performance at top-of-mind. Viewers can’t help but make the connection. This drives home an invaluable message: GMC prioritizes precision in its cars, but not at the expense of style.

Film: Honda’s Ignition
Lesson: Be Unforgettable

Honda’s Ignition may only be 1:40 long, but with its high-octane action and reference to space travel, it packs a punch. Launched in mid-August, it was created by Wieden + Kennedy London and features the agency’s signature eclectic tone. There’s a lot going on in this film. It includes appearances by Honda’s own humanoid robot ASIMO, celebrity cameos like McLaren-Honda driver Jenson Button, numerous Honda products – CBR motorcycles, the Civic Type R, and the HondaJet – and a family out for a drive.

This film appeals to consumers’ fascination with speed without detracting from the message that even with its racing history and expansive product line, Honda has something for every driver who appreciates engineering prowess. There are numerous references to Honda’s heritage throughout the film, hidden like Easter eggs for die-hard Honda fans to find. Those who really pay attention will also note the use of two tracks associated with the Voyager space probe trip in 197; both were on the phonograph records that made it onto the spacecraft. Said W+K of the project, “We wanted to create a film that dramatized Honda’s daring ambition across the range.”

Mission accomplished. This is one brand film consumers won’t soon forget.

Film: Lexus’ Operation Barn Owl
Lesson: Make the Product a Secondary Player

For three years now, Lexus has been sponsoring the development of a short film series with the goal of “supporting and nurturing a new generation of emerging filmmakers.” Each annual series has a theme and this year’s is “Anticipation.” Working in conjunction with The Weinstein Company, Lexus selects four filmmakers and supports the production of their work. The latest search is currently underway.

Lexus’ films are different from other brand films in that the shorts, which are submitted to film festivals around the world, aren’t created by the brand itself. Rather, they deliver value by associating Lexus with a worthy art form. The project enables Lexus to demonstrate its commitment to up-and-coming filmmakers, just as a brand might align itself with a charity to demonstrate corporate social responsibility.

That isn’t to say the product doesn’t come into play, but the trick is to put the story – not the vehicle – first. Take last fall’s 13-minute-long Operation Barn Owl; the film is full of charisma and is a joy to watch. Though it does briefly feature a Lexus, it’s the narrative that pulls viewers in. With this approach, brands like Lexus stand to appeal to potential customers through emotion. This can potentially build brand affinity and loyalty for life.

If you’re planning a film of your own, automaker offerings like these provide a bountiful source of inspiration. Let them guide you as you navigate the twists and turns associated with this ever-important form of branded content.

Homepage image via Shutterstock. 

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