Transitioning to Cinematic: the Commercial Evolution

I remember seeing commercials when I was a kid growing up in the 90s. They all looked similar; upbeat music bed, high-key lighting, cheesy product shots, lots of flying graphic text. There was always two boys of different ethnicities saying “WOW!” at the latest and greatest toy. Then, one of their moms would come in, tilt her head slightly, and ask “What are you kids up to?” Then, (presumably) her son would say, “Aw gee whiz, Mom, we’re battling Galactor!” (Galactor is a villain in my space opera I’m writing. Watch out, James Gunn.) Now, I see ads on TV that utilize sweeping, panoramic drone shots. I see wonderful, nuanced lighting that highlights the emotionality of brand’s story. The new generation of marketing content could be bonafide short films. When did this transition from sappy to spectacle happen? Where does the video marketing world go from here? Today, we’ll explore those topics.

The idea of focusing on storytelling and craft in a commercial is largely believed to be started by Apple’s “1984” commercial by Chiat/Day and directed by none other than Ridley Scott. The visual style utilized in the groundbreaking advertisement ushered in a new method of thinking about marketing. “1984” used actual props from the movie, Alien, that added to the distinctly dystopian vibe. Steve Jobs wanted the best commercial in the world to showcase the Macintosh computer, which, he believed, was the best product in the world. In doing so, Chiat/Day revolutionized the presentation of a brand, and Apple still operates under the modus operandi of being the company that pushes boundaries. Now, we live in the age of online content and 2000 channels. Companies had to rise above the rest, and they took a page from the “1984” playbook.


That leads us to the current climate in commercial storytelling. Instead of battling the audience to not click the “Skip this Ad” button, agencies are trying to get consumers to seek out their content. “The holy grail is if people seek you out,” says Teddy Lynn, chief creative officer for content and social at Ogilvy & Mather. For example, Audi’s commercial for Super Bowl LI, “Daughter,” tells the story of a young girl competing in a boxcar race, while her dad talks about the disparity between men and women’s pay gap. It’s shot in a gorgeous, gritty, sepia style, and you’re instantly enthralled in the story. (Not to mention the killer message of equal pay for equal work.) Due to the accessibility of cinematic cameras in the digital age, marketing campaigns can take on the visual style, and scope of story, of what you might see on the big screen.


Where do we venture next in our journey to tell stories? All signs lead to virtual and augmented reality. “If films are impressions of reality, then virtual reality is the expression of that same reality,” claims David Karlak of RSA Films. VR and AR have the capacity to place consumers where the advertisers want them to be. There’s unlimited potential to what kinds of stories you want to tell when you’re able to transport an audience anywhere in the world (or universe). Magic Leap is a VR/AR company that is creating a huge impact in the way people experience spectacle. They were featured at this year’s Apple’s iOS launch event, and they are primed to pave the way for brands to take up the VR/AR trend. Brands love to be perceived as cutting-edge. The new technological capabilities are something out of a sci-fi movie; consumers are blown away by the immersion. The hardware and accessibility of VR to the masses is what is holding VR back, as of now. The innovators are still exploring what VR means for marketing, but that only fuels their creative drive to immerse a consumer into a story-driven experience to sell their product.

From what I’ve noticed through my observations, the most cutting-edge method for marketing is still the story you tell. Substance reigns over presentation. We all know about the infamous Pepsi commercial that had all of the visual beauty in the world, but told a horrible story. How you connect with someone is equal parts humanity in your storytelling and how you deliver it. As we progress in the technology and how we experience content, the stories we tell need to be just as innovative.


by Benton Olivares