What you need to know about microfilm

In my previous posts, we watched several microfilms. I explained here and there some key points of microfilms. You may have grabbed a general idea about what a microfilm is, or you may not. It’s fine. Today, I am going to thoroughly introduce this new concept to you.

What is a microfilm? Don’t google it, as you will find some terminology that has nothing to do with what we are discussing. Microfilm is literally translated from a Chinese phrase called “Wei-Dianying.” You may be more comfortable to pronounce “Wei” if you have already known “Wei-bo” and “Wei-xin.” They are Chinese Twitter and WhatsApp.

“Wei” means “micro.” It is the basic feature of a microfilm, which you can see in three aspects. First, the duration is short. A microfilm usually lasts for 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Very few have 10 to 20 minutes, which I think is not very smart. If you do have a lot to say, you can separate them into episodes. A microfilm should not be long. Want to know why? Keep reading! Second, the production is easy. All you need are performers, a good play, a video camera, and a computer. Third, the investment is usually small. People can upload their microfilms on YouTube for free and rely on social media to spread their videos.

Microfilms can work because they fulfill audience’s needs of passing fragmented time that can be 3 minutes staying in a line or 5 minutes waiting for a bus. If your microfilm is long, your audience will be less likely to watch it. You cannot assure your microfilm can keep your audience sitting and watching for 20 minutes, can you?

Microfilms can be produced for various reasons, such as fun, irony, and public service promotion. In my blog, I focus mainly on microfilms with branding purposes, which primarily have two functions. One is to promote brand ideas, and the other is to show product performances.

Do you feel clearer about microfilms somehow? Let’s do a quiz. Professor Luke Armour, who is teaching me PR Online Tactics this semester, shared a short video with me. Are you able to tell whether it is a microfilm or not?

Is it a microfilm? If your answer is yes, congratulations, you are right. To be honest, I failed to recognize it as a microfilm at first because I thought there was no story included. This morning, I watched it again. No way! How could I miss such a brilliant idea? Embrace Life, not only with your seat belt, but also with your family’s love. It is creative. It is storytelling. Of course, it is a microfilm.

What is the key to success of a microfilm? In my view, the soul of a microfilm lies in the story you tell. Tell your audience who you are and what your uniqueness is. Do you still remember the Mercedes-Benz microfilm we watched weeks ago? It is exciting. But when it is put together with the BMW microfilm series, it will not be able to stand out because they are telling the same story. Once a plot is overused, it will lose power.

This is where practitioners in the field of marketing, advertising, and public relations ought to be aware of when creating a microfilm. It is not enough to be viral video marketing specialists only, but content marketing professionals as well.

Now, any more questions about microfilms?


Flying Red Bull

The brand I am going to talk about is Red Bull. I guess everybody knows it, right? If you search it, wiki will tell you it is “the most popular energy drink in the world” produced in Austria. Yet you will see Thailand is also its birthplace. Curious? Here is the backstory.

When entrepreneur Dietrich Mateschitz once traveled to Thailand, he saw the tuk-tuk (a motor vehicle with three wheels used as a taxi in Thailand) drivers kept drinking something to keep energized throughout the day. This beverage was called Krating Daeng, meaning Red Gaur in English. He was inspired and then began the Red Bull business.

Mateschitz is a genius in marketing. He created one of the most successful beverage stories in the last decade. Two points can be taken out of the Red Bull story. One is to embrace the right audience, and the other is to follow a unique communication strategy. The microfilm below will tell you more about its brand idea.

This microfilm brings the core Red Bull spirits to us, which are energetic, adventurous, and creative. But still, you may ask, “What the story that Red Bull wants to tell us?” In fact, they did not TELL you. They SHOW you. As Eva Snijders said, all the stories Red Bull shares to the world are based on the things they actually do.

Red Bull does not sponsor events. Instead, they innovate. What Red Bull invest is not only money, but also ideas. Watch Behind the Scenes of “The Athlete Machine”, and you will understand it. Red Bull wrote the play, gathered athletes, and performed miracles. It took about two years to complete the final shooting. In the period, failures always happened, but no one gave up. Its brand personality shows all around, whether on or off the screen.

When I first watched the Red Bull Kluge, I simply thought its target was the young and the restless. But indeed, it was not the case. According to Red Bull promotion planning made by Kastner & Partners, Red Bull’s consumers are “not determined by a demographic, but by a state of mind.” Its loyal customers are “physically and mentally fit and wide awake.”

From the short film, we can see that it is purely fun that drives all the professionals and amateurs to devote themselves to the Red Bull brand. Did you know? Red Bull has more than 250 approvals among top athletes. However, there is no single written contract. How can Red Bull establish such a delicate relationship with its public? The slogan may offer us a clue, which is Red Bull gives you wings.

Red Bull gives wings to people and ideas. It proves to you through the microfilm with actions that seems impossible to be accomplished and the incredible combination of people and machines. When athletes are doing stunt shows in the air, it does seem like wings are spreading upon their shoulders. The brand itself, in my mind, is a red bull that keeps flying and never stops.

An epic poem in praise of Cartier

L’Odyssée de Cartier is a gift to celebrate Cartier’s 165th birthday. It took Bruno Aveillan, one of the most distinguished and sought after directors, two years to create this three-and-a-half-minute microfilm.

If you are not familiar with Cartier, you may at most be impressed by the luxuries in the pictures. Yet if you are fans of Cartier, you will probably be amazed to find that it is neither a jewelry show nor an advertisement. It is an epic poem that chronicles 165-year history of Cartier. The panther was the hero Odysseus and went on adventure to look for her Muse.

The iconic panther was designed by Jeanne Toussaint, creative director of Cartier in 1930s, who was later nicknamed as La Panthère, meaning Lady Panther in English. In the last part of the movie, the panther finally met her Muse performed by Shalom Harlow, an international supermodel. She displayed a typical image of a Cartier woman who is elegant, free-spirited, and independent, represented by Mrs. Toussaint.

In the journey, the panther traveled to three countries where Cartier derived its inspiration. First, we see a dome and a carriage in snow that are the symbols of Russia. We also see a noble woman wearing a diamond ring, which indeed implies the relationship between Cartier and Russian aristocrats. Since 1860, Cartier has started to design jewelries for Russian royalty. At the same time, Cartier was addicted to Russian luxury style and sparkled by its ballet arts.

Cartier got the inspiration from Chinese dragon.

After passing through the ring avenue, the panther came face-to-face with a golden dragon disappearing on the Great Wall that indicates she has arrived China. Chinese fables and legends left a huge impact on Cartier as early as in the 19th century. Cartier revolutionarily applied concepts of Chinese mascots like dragon, Kylin, and phoenix into its creation. The picture on the right shows one of the Cartier classics, Le Baiser du Dragon (the Kiss of the Dragon).

When stepping into the Indian palace, the panther slowed down her pace, attracted by the glittering jewelry. Indian, the cradle of diamonds, its culture deeply enriched Cartier’s design, leading the jewel emperor into the animal world. Snakes, butterflies, and peacocks in the microfilm reminded us again of the intimate friendship between Cartier and India.

“L’Odyssée de Cartier really is a no-expense-spared mini-masterpiece,” according to Belinda White reporting in The Telegraph. Even though it is not a commercial decision, it contributes to bringing Cartier to a larger audience and let more people know about its idea, personality, and history, not merely “a luxury brand.”

References (Chinese):

Backstories of L’Odyssée de Cartier

Stories between Cartier and Russia

Stories between Cartier and China

Stories between Cartier and India

What is the story of your car?

Companies gradually find it possible to achieve desirable profits with relatively low investment by wisely utilizing social media. Microfilms, or viral videos, become increasingly popular as an effective integrated marketing tool. However, rather than follow the mainstream blindly, organizations need “calm” consideration beforehand.

Ask yourself following questions before you start. What is your objective by launching a microfilm? What do you want to tell your audience through this minimovie? More importantly, how can your brand be easily identified in this video? Microfilming requires strategic planning as well. To illustrate my point, I am going to show you a short film from Mercedes-Benz as an example.

“There are some things in life worth dying for. Those are the things that we live for.” The line includes an implication. We can live for a mysterious career and help people find what they lost. We can also live for an exciting life and go wherever we like with a premium auto.

You may feel interested when you first watch this microfilm. But if you have watched the BMW series that has eight similar episodes in total, you will probably get fatigued just like me. To be frank, I did not see anything creative among them. Either Audi or Chevrolet can tell a same story.

Such stories are always about hide-and-seek that I tend to regard as clichéd. You can almost foresee the ending that the hero driving a nice car wins the game. In addition, the promotion part is mostly focusing on car performances such as speed and active curve system. I cannot help questioning, “Is there anything else you can tell?”

Before discussing about microfilms’ content, let’s first talk about the two functions of minimovies. One is to establish brand images, and the other is to highlight product features. In this case, both Mercedes-Benz and BMW picked the second. Weakness appeared accordingly.

As peer companies in the same industry, it is difficult to display innovation upon product characteristics. Besides, competitors are very likely to learn from each other, which will lead to lack of creativity, and then, even worse, a viral video marketing failure.

What is a successful branding microfilm? In my view, it should at least leave a deep impression on the audience. Further, it may inspire consumers’ desire for the brand. Mo Kangsun, director of professional management at McCann Worldgroup in China, proposed an advertising and marketing theory that can be summed up in 4E. They are engaging, entertain, enrich, and enhance.

Looking back on Mercedes-Benz’s microfilm, unfortunately, the company failed to enrich the personality of the brand and let alone enhance the image of the brand. In order to reach goals above, a story only is far from enough. As I have mentioned from time to time, a good script is the key.

To create a distinctive story, you should think about the uniqueness of your brand. What do you have, only you have? Devote more attention to your brand philosophy, your corporate culture, and your corporate social responsibility.

An example can be Cadillac’s Route 66, a cross-cultural microfilm combined with Chinese production and American idea. The plot may be not so dramatic as Drive & Seek, yet the theme of freedom distinguishes Cadillac from other automobile brands.

You can also tell a story between you and your consumers. Embrace social media. Find your stories on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Integrate your customers to help you design your products, suggested by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff in their book of Marketing in the Groundswell.

Now, it is time to brainstorm. What is your story with your baby car?

Fantasy VS Reality

Today, I am going to share with you two microfilms. One is for Virgin Atlantic from Britain, and the other is for ANA from Japan. Though these two are both airlines, the promotional styles they presented are quite different.

Flying in the Face of Ordinary – Virgin Atlantic

What did you recall when you watched this microfilm? Heroes, X-Men, or The Avengers? You can hardly see a superhero in an Asian movie, but in western films, it seems people particularly favor individualistic heroism. Even though heroes sometimes appear in a group, as showed in the video, they each possess a unique and distinctive talent so that they will never be overshadowed by each other. Again, it is about cultural differences.

Western countries tend to have more individualistic cultures, yet countries including Brazil, Russia, India, and most eastern nations lean toward collectivism, according to Christine Gillies in Individualism Versus Collectivism: Social Behavior. Westerners focus more on individual characteristics and personal goals, yet people from countries like China, Japan, and Korea place more emphasis on the connection with other members in the collective.

Some people may argue that it is a stereotype. We should not fall into the fallacy of composition. That’s right. Society is developing and people are changing. However, speaking of heroic individualism, there are more historical reasons behind.

As Kai-Fu Lee explained on Zhihu, a Chinese online Q&A community, the admiration of superheroes can be originated from Western Myths, for example, Greek and Roman Mythology. In those stories, heroes usually owned super power and shouldered the responsibility to save people, save the world.

Lee also mentioned, since the Civil Rights Movement in the US, people in the west have been continuously fighting for democracy, liberty, and equality. As you can see in the microfilm, among the gifted superheroes, there are men and women, black and white, and Western and Asian. There are no boundaries between sexes, races, and ethnic groups. An important mission brings those prodigies together. “Flying to save us all!” Did you just feel being highly valued?

In addition, the minimovie highlights the professionalism of Virgin Atlantic’s staffs. You see designers with creative minds, receptionists with considerable thoughts, airhostesses with appealing smiles, and attendants with agile moves. These strengths are magnified by the so-called gifts. Through this video, Virgin Atlantic not only told us a really fantastic story, but also set up its brand image.

Nonetheless, good stories are not always exciting. Very often, straightforward narrations can be unexpectedly heartwarming. ANA Magic, adapted from true stories, is one such example. Ready to be impressed?

Continue reading

Leave Me in the Memory

I was touched and close to tears after I saw this microfilm. How about you?

Different from Pantene’s minimovies we discussed last week, “Canon” appeared at the very beginning. At about the 30th second, the director gave a close-up to a Canon DSLR. In the rest part of the film, the camera showed up again and again. But you did not get annoyed, did you? Instead, you may like to find this moving video on YouTube and share with your friends.

Here comes another problem. If you just search for “Leave Me”, you will get thousands of irrelevant results. So you want to type in “Canon” as well. There you go! Now the microfilm will quickly show up at the top of the list. Likewise, in most reviews, the minimovie is always tied with “Canon.” Viewers tend to title the microfilm as “Canon’s commercial.” But indeed, I failed to prove Canon’s sponsorship for the film. Most background materials I found were about the production team and awards the film won. I have to question: Is it really product placement advertising?

No matter what the answer is, it cannot be denied that this microfilm still somehow promoted “Canon.” Thus, I boldly guess that it is a branding microfilm tailored for Canon. Yet it is the moving plot, not the product that catches people’s eyes. The trick is that once people are impressed and touched by the story, they willingly become open to the message behind. They may even be curious about who made such a minimovie, why they made it and what is the relationship between the story and the brand. See, getting customers’ attention is not that difficult, right?

However, there is one thing you should never take for granted, the content. As Bill Gates said in 1996, “Content is King!” Marketing is not a battle of products any more; it is a battle of ideas, of perceptions. Story is the soul of a microfilm. If you do not have a good story or you place your product in the movie without thinking whether the brand and the story are combined well, you will probably lose this video marketing battle.

So, what does the director want to show through this minimovie? Some viewers comment that there is no commercial purpose in this video at all. I don’t think so. For example, Jack said that his wife usually took photos of trees, waters and sunrises. I consider it as saying that Canon cameras are good at taking pictures of landscape and can display nice color and texture. The director also chose a scene of a party with dim light. I guess his aim is to show that Canon cameras have high sensibility and flexibility. Different people may have different associations.

After all, the goal of producing such a microfilm is not to stimulate consumption, but to endow the brand with a personality. The key to distinguishing those two lies in how to present your product and to what extent is appropriate. In this film, all of the property details mentioned above turn pale under the main theme, memory.

We all wish time could stop at the most wonderful moment in our life. Unfortunately, most of the time, we are just so powerless especially when facing with separation, with death. Camera makes our dream come true. It freezes the most unforgettable instant and stores our memory. In this microfilm, the director amplified this feature and created a miracle for Jack. He finally met his wife and stayed with her in the camera world.

This is the charm of storytelling. It offers us a vision, according to Annette Simmons in The Story Factor. Life is full of struggles. We love to hear sad stories with happy endings because they lead us to believe that there will be an end to our suffering too.

If I were Jack, I would also say:

Leave me. Leave me in the camera. Leave me in the memory.

What does a butterfly and shampoo have in common?

In 2009, Pantene Thailand released a minimovie called You Can Shine. It was the first commercial microfilm I saw and I did not realize that it was a Pantene advertisement until the end, when Pantene’s logo popped up.

The film was an inspiring story about how a chrysalis changed into a butterfly and how an ugly duckling turned into a beautiful swan. The deaf girl loved violin, but her mates made fun of her and tried to exclude her. When she felt desperate, she met her mentor.

— Why am I different from others?

— Why do you have to be like others?

I was moved by this conversation, and I believe so were others. Viewers felt connected. We all have dreams and we all somehow come across various setbacks on the way to pursue our dreams. As Annette Simons (2006) wrote in her book The Story Factor, once a connection has been established, audience become willing to listen to your story.

Be optimistic about life. Never give up. You can succeed as long as you keep going. Pantene is selling values and spirits rather than products. The company is creating brand image rather than sales revenue.

This is public relations, not just marketing.

After Pantene microfilm was launched, many viewers questioned, “Is it really an advertisement?” Unlike the general, this video has few commercial signs even though the final goal of producing such an online video is to make profits, both reputational and financial. We are all clear about their purpose, but we still “like” it, “share” it and help it go viral. Why? It is the power of storytelling. Stories will not only engage you in listening, but also prompt you into action, according to Robert McKee in Storytelling That Moves People.

“Microfilms are not long advertisements,” commented by NetEase, a Chinese Internet company that operates a popular portal site named 163. Microfilms, compared with average advertisements, allow more room for creativity and decorate the brand with a human face and a personality, which encourages the audience to communicate.

This is public relations, not just marketing.

Notably, Pantene Russia released a similar video last year. The Russian version involved more butterfly-related elements, including the hair ribbon and the gymnastic suit, which reinforced the theme of this movie. However, there is a major difference. The little girl was a gymnastics lover, not a violinist.

Why did Pantene make such a change? Culture studies may offer an answer. As we all know, Russians are good at Artistic Gymnastics. The women’s team is always among the world’s best. A gymnast will surely resonate with Russian young women more deeply than a violinist. If a little change enables you to further approach your target audience, why not make it?

In the age of globalization, cross-culture business gets common. How to manage the same brand in different countries becomes a hot research topic. One thing for sure is that companies should take culture differences into consideration and localize the brand instead of copying and applying mechanically. Pantene set a good example.