George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, once said, “All art is based on technology.”
Nearly forty years after the original Star Wars, we still owe much of the digital post production technology used in films and TV ads to the early production struggles overcome by creator George Lucas.
When Lucas wrote the script he had a very clear vision of the elaborate universe, characters and spaceship battles that would eventually come to life on screen. But early during the filming process he kept hitting his ’head against the ceiling’ in the production process trying to get the scenes to his level of satisfaction. Quickly realising that existing post production technology didn't meet his exacting standards, he decided to temporarily stop production and take time to develop the necessary visual effects and animation technology to continue telling his story.
The experience convinced Lucas that “all art is based on technology.” Specifically for artists in visual mediums, post production has become the critical difference in being able to tell stories. Lucas of course would go on to create Lucasfilm (recently sold to Disney for $4 billion) and opened the door for others like directors Steven Spielberg and James Cameron to build upon his foundation in later films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Minority Report, Titanic and Avatar; the trend has continued the last several years with Ironman and the Marvel Comic franchise. The full Lucas-inspired circle was completed when Disney’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens became the biggest box office hit of all time and AdAge Marketer of the Year 2015.
As a direct result of Hollywood movies, the investment and technology required for the ever-improving VFX and post production capabilities coalesced around Los Angeles: creative editorial, visual effects, animation, global adaptations, content security, ad distribution, digital archival and digital asset management are hallmarks of LA as the entertainment and ‘storytelling’ capital of the world.
The new creators and digital distributers of licensed and original content are Amazon, AT&T, Comcast, Facebook, Google, Hulu, Netflix, Verizon & YouTube – all competing with Hollywood for entertainment supremacy and in fact disrupting the old studio system that has existed for over 75 years.
Increasingly, brand marketers are also behaving more like studios and openly aspire to become world-class storytellers in their own right. In the words of David Beebe, VP of Global Creative & Content Marketing for Marriott International, brands are building their own content studios to re-imagine advertising that will “stop interrupting what people are interested in, and become what they’re interested in.”
For Madison Avenue it’s been a logical four-step evolution:
1. Proliferation. Marketers have been driven into an era of continuous video content production. Audiences insatiable appetite for content across multiple platforms - TV, digital, social media etc. – has forced brands to create more and more video content. This proliferation of video content has been the catalyst behind advertisers transforming the way they approach even the simplest campaign.
2. Invention. With unprecedented amounts of video content being produced, marketers have also had to revolutionize the way they manage their content production workflows. No more can brand marketers tackle the issue with their legacy processes; they must look to mimic the approach of the Hollywood movie studios. The original approach, low volume/long turnaround/long-shelf life processes, is being turned on its head. Marketers are having to create new high volume/short turnaround/short shelf-life models for producing, finishing and distributing content in order to keep up with their audiences’ appetite for video content.
3. Liberation. The Hollywood model has continued to take shape within global marketers in terms of the relationships they have with their ad agencies. A creative model has emerged where AOR-based work has been sidelined in favour of project-centred work where story ideas are developed - and then handed off to the best content ‘makers’ to execute production.
4. Expression. The end game for marketers is creating voluntary content vs. involuntary ads. Brands openly aspiring to mirror what films achieve at their highest level: emotional appeals, cinematic production values and 'meaningfulness.' Coca-Cola tying their brand to 'happiness', Virgin Atlantic as embodying 'empathy', Apple synonymous with 'individual empowerment'.
Audiences don’t want to be forced to watch TV commercials or pre-roll ads on their mobile devices; they now have the power to avoid unwanted marketer content – so the smart marketers are learning to flip the equation to bring audiences in via voluntary seeking of content.
This evolution can be seen throughout modern brand marketers approach to advertising. Take Old Navy for example, they enlisted Saturday Night Live comedienne Amy Poehler to appear in their TV commercials; but organic collaboration with an A-list talent led to creating YouTube videos of Poehler’s humorous ‘outtakes’; lo and behold, the ‘voluntary’ YouTube content garnered more viewership than the ‘involuntary’ TV ads. Old Navy succeeded in creating Hollywood-level content that audiences sought out on their own for entertainment value.
Movie studios have always enjoyed a distinct advantage over brands when it comes to their advertising content: their products, i.e. movie trailers, are imminently watchable. Unlike brand marketers, they don’t have to undergo a metamorphosis from ‘involuntary ads’ to ‘voluntary content’ to reach their target audiences; however, as Madison Avenue continues to develop entertainment-level content, the post production technologies built by their Hollywood predecessors will become the new platforms on which they forge their journey into the future.