How Auto Brands Are Driving the Success of Online Films

Online films have had their fair share of press this year. Brands of all kinds are trying their hand at producing long-form video content that’s too entertaining to eschew, too engaging to ignore. But there’s one vertical that can claim to have, if not the most, then at least some of the best online films created thus far: automotive.

What is it about films that’s so appealing to auto brand marketers? It’s a partnership that predates digital content, and even the modern Web. Cars were a principal feature in countless films, from the 1968 classic Bullitt to Back to the Future in 1985. What would Ferris Bueller’s Day Off be without Cameron’s father’s Ferrari? Without cars, The Fast and the Furious franchise wouldn’t exist at all.


There’s a synergy between these two industries that’s impossible to ignore. Little wonder, then, that auto manufacturers are turning to films online. This year alone saw the launch of such projects as Jaguar’s Desire, Lincoln’s Hello Again series, Volvo’s Leave the World Behind, Land Rover’s Race the Sun, and Infiniti’s Deja View. None are small endeavors; Land Rover’s film incorporates gaming, while Infiniti’s is interactive, responding to the instructions of the viewer. Many were developed in conjunction with big-name Hollywood directors and production companies.

What’s interesting about this trend is how it’s affecting automotive display ads. On, Porsche placed a minute-long, user-initiated half-page video ad, with a race-against-time theme. Between the size of the ad unit on the site (far larger than most banner placements) and the nature of the content, the ad doesn’t have much in common with a banner. Instead, it adopts the look and sensibility of an online film.


EMarketer recently reported that 93 percent of marketers used video in 2013, with more than 70 percent increasing their video spend. They’re placing their videos on brand sites (over 80 percent) and YouTube (65 percent), both of which are conducive to longer content. Only 39 percent invested in traditional video ads.

Years ago, when online video first started to trend, media buyers struggled to convince their clients that rehashed offline content wasn’t enough. Digital media called for something new, created expressly for this unique environment. We still see TV spots repurposed for pre-roll ads, and maintaining consistency across campaigns does have its virtues. But this year more than any other, it feels as though brands are embracing the Internet’s ability to seize consumers’ attention. With the help of online video and some strategic theatrics, they’re transporting viewers to an altogether different place.

There are lessons to be learned from this approach and they apply to digital marketers regardless of the nature of their brands:

  1. Stick to your story. An online film, even a long video ad like Porsche’s, requires a basic plot, but don’t let writing it distract you from your message. Tell a story that reflects your image and lifestyle. Appeal to your audience’s product fantasies. Just be sure to keep communications true to your brand.
  2. Have a distribution strategy. Auto brands typically adopt one of two tactics when posting a film online: they upload it in full to YouTube, or they post only a teaser that links back to the complete film on their site. If you’re looking to increase exposure and generate buzz, posting to YouTube makes good sense. If, however, you wish to pre-qualify potential customers, compel them to visit your site. Those who do may hang around after they watch.
  3. Take a cue from Tinseltown. Channel the reaction moviegoers have to seeing a blockbuster on the big screen by tapping into their emotions. Make your online film or video ad gripping or moving, thrilling or sweet. Content that evokes an emotional response is more likely to be appreciated and shared. It clings to viewers long after they walk away from the screen.

Yes, cars and movies have a rich history that still benefits auto brands today. The current boom of online films, however, is something every brand can enjoy.

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