Back in the pre-Youtube frontier times of 2001, BMW commissioned and released a seminal webseries called The Hire: eight highly stylized action shorts where Clive Owen plays a maverick wheelman caught up in a web of espionage and intrigue. While Owen was the nominal lead of these stories, the true stars were the fleet of high-performance Bavarian sports cars at his disposal. The concept was largely unprecedented, and the series was a runaway hit – so much so that BMW eventually published it on DVD to meet public demand.
Earlier this year, PRWeek’s Chris Daniels spoke with some of the minds behind the recent followup to The Hire to discuss the creative decisions that are made to entice audiences into watching what are ostensibly commercials, even when they don’t have to.
Experts agree that a brand film is no longer a film if it’s selling (that’s just an extended ad), or telling a story strictly about the company (that’s an infomercial). They say it follows a different set of parameters and best practices that seem to seem counter to almost everything else they do in [marketing communications] – Chris Daniels
Directed by Neill Blomkamp, The Escape features Clive Owen returning as the nameless Driver to evade dystopian corporate mercenaries from behind the wheel of his 2017 BMW 5 Series (G30). Since its release last October, it’s approaching six million views on Youtube. What makes these shorts so popular? Here’s our take on Chris’ three key points.
Don’t Play It Safe
To paraphrase Chris, audiences aren’t clamouring for commercials and most brands do not elicit the kind of enthusiastic response that is enjoyed by more traditional genres of entertainment. After all, nobody wants to watch a corporation dramatizing their own sense of importance, or putting on artistic airs without taking risks. In the world of The Hire, the beemers themselves are action heroes of the Die Hard variety: they get the job done, but they get smashed, crashed, shot to pieces, set on fire, and exploded in the process. Demonstrating to your audience that you’re not handling your brand’s image with kids gloves adds a greater level of sincerity to the project – and makes it more fun to watch.
Collaborate Outside The Box
Collaborating with people that aren’t shackled to old-fashioned modes of marketing dogma gives you an advantage. For example, Chris describes developing ideas from a PR perspective leading to films that get talked about, which gets them in the news cycle, which gets them watched. However, once the curtain rises, unbeholden artists should be holding the reigns. The Hire accomplished this with an incredible (and enviable) roster of bleeding-edge genre filmmakers.
With the likes of John Woo, Joe Carnahan, Guy Ritchie, and Alejandro Iñárritu writing and directing for BMW, each installment of The Hire commands an indelible atmosphere of style, story, and auteurship. The fingerprints of copywriters and boardrooms are unnoticeable, if nowhere to be found.
Think About Legacy
This is the confluence of the last two points. It’s been fifteen years since The Hire premiered, yet somehow the arrival of a one-off followup still commands enthusiasm. Why? Because as one interviewee states, “a film can live forever.” If your objective is to create something that’s more than a trumped-up piece of advertising, hands-off creative freedom combined with genuine artistry is the “secret sauce” that can help ensure your brand film lives on in the popular consciousness – the biggest coup an advertiser could hope for.
Want to learn more about brand films? Check out our retrospective to read about the history of the format and watch some examples of brand films done right (and one done really, really wrong).