Amsterdam Abandons the 30-second Spot

Viewpoint: Why Tell Stories in an Expensive Half Minute When Films Can Be Any Length Online

When you realize that on the internet advertising has no time limit whatsoever, it feels completely random to squeeze your storytelling in a small window of exactly 30 seconds. On the internet you can simply claim a URL or open a YouTube account and the channel is yours. So instead of buying media attention, online you can earn it for free.

When I look at the Amsterdam advertising scene, I feel that more and more agencies and  advertisers begin to realize that they are not dependent on TV anymore. In the past year I came across some beautiful cases of branded content, made especially for the internet. And I’m not talking about virals, made with meager budgets, shaky handycams and a fingers-crossed-mentality. I am talking about quality, long form productions, based on a solid strategy, and created with a multitalented team of professionals.

Last year Watson & Lewis, a small Amsterdam agency, made a three-minute commercial for Martini — disguised as a music video with Dutch singer Caro Emerald – that was released on a dedicated YouTube channel, and seeded through music channels, blogs and social media. The catchy clip that became an instant hit had the look and feel of an international production. It was made though, solely for the Dutch market, because Dutch women perceived the “international brand” as too glamorous and distant. If Martini Netherlands would have to buy the three minutes of TV exposure on top of the production costs, this local approach would have been impossible.

So when an online production for a tiny market like the Netherlands allows six times the length of a 30-second commercial, you can imagine that a market that combines Russia and Eastern Europe, can easily afford a lengthier film. That is what Amsterdam Worldwide – formerly known as Strawberry Frog –  made for ArArAt brandy. To elaborate on ArArAt’s rich brand heritage, the agency converted its TV budget into a 15-minute film, called the “Legend of Akhtamar”, a classic Armenian story about unrequited love. It would have been quite an effort to tell this story in 30 seconds. And while the Martini production still felt like a TV commercial — larded with product shots — the “Legend of Akhtamar” had all the cinematographic qualities of a feature film. Including two talented directors (the Shammasian brothers, who won the Young Director’s Award in Cannes in 2005), a renowned movie music composer and a set of famous local actors.

Online any length is possible. Stockholm-NY-Amsterdam based Perfect Fools shot even more advertising minutes for McDonald’s  in Scandinavia. In 60 minutes — divided over seven episodes – “Dreaming in Mono” tells the story of a rivalry between two ski legends, one of whom wants to break a downhill record on a monoski. While the story might not sound very engaging, it was very well made. McDonald’s was even able to make a deal with the biggest TV channels in Scandinavia to broadcast it. So by mainly allocating the advertising budget to the creation of the story, the fast feeder earned itself a TV deal. It shows that the tables start to turn when advertisers focus their budget on creativity, rather than the perfect timeslot on TV.

Consumer electronics brand Philips recently launched the follow up of “Carousel”. The original won a Grand Prix in Cannes last year. Together with Tribal DDB, Amsterdam, Philips selected five very different directors to tell one story in completely different ways. It supported the proposition that it doesn’t matter how you tell the story, as long as you watch it on a Philips wide-screen TV. Though the films were each only a few minutes long, you can easily imagine how Philips could cultivate this concept and become the cinema-TV brand.

If more advertisers follow these examples — and I am pretty sure they will —  you will see a big shift in budget allocation, in the quality of branded content, and in the balance of power between the broadcaster and the advertiser. Storytelling will become more true to its original meaning, and agencies will reinvent themselves. The 30-second commercial will probably survive. Maybe as a trailer, to advertise its more mature 30 minute sibling.