The marketing space has been very diverse from the start. You had traditional media – newspapers, broadcast news – that kept you abreast of current happenings. With time, media evolved to become more immersive. You had colour magazines, for example, that allowed you to start telling print narratives. Then came the TV.
The first TV ad wasn’t exactly all bells and whistles. It was an ad for a Bulova watch. In it, you’d see a map of the US, and the logo would appear at the centre of the map, reading ‘Bulova Watches’. Over the next 60 years, the medium evolved from black and white to high definition. The premise, however, remains the same. Developing narratives that make people do something.
Back then, it was about telling brand stories in short intervals of 30-90 seconds using videos. Every marketing module out there will tell you how to catch someone’s attention, evolve the narrative, and end with the brand name and message. It’s a formula that has been perfected over the years.
Then, cinema and the internet happened. This allowed storytelling to go even deeper, and narratives to extend over a longer time frame. With social media, things started changing very quickly. Social media, in many ways, turned 60 years of formulaic marketing on its head. You’d now have to start with your brand and message, then earn each second of your audience’s attention. If you lose your audience for even a second, they’ll scroll up and it’s on to the next one.
All of this happened so fast that brands didn’t have the luxury of time to pivot. The whole industry needed to change the way they worked – from what clients wanted to the way agencies were equipped. And even a screen flip!
Just think about the early days of Youtube, and how people were watching videos on their desktops. An aspect ratio of 16:9 was totally fine. People who shot vertical videos were made fun of. But slowly, people started watching Youtube on their phones. Now, a 16:9 makes less sense, as a phone is a vertical screen. Even for a platform like Youtube that isn’t very old, it was hard to get content creators to transition to shooting vertically. Across the board, people had to shift habits to respond to social media.
Learning how to navigate this dynamic space is an ongoing process. It takes a great deal of expertise to master storytelling on cinema and TV, and to go on to adapt that content to Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter. While you cannot expect to master all there is to know about social media in a short amount of time, there are things you can do to get closer.
Brands that are winning at social media are not trying to create formulas that adapt to new formats. It’s not about having a stellar media plan where you’re resizing all your content to fit on vertical screens, square videos, and a six-second version for Facebook. That’s just optimisation, and it only works in the short term.
So if your idea is to make an ad film, don’t think about how to cut and resize this film such that it fits everywhere. Instead, you’d just use the film as a starting point. Then, you’d ask how you can make use of the vertical video function that’s native to Instagram Stories. Maybe you’d look at the same ad film from the point of view of a specific character for Instagram Stories. Since the platform is largely for personal, raw content, you’d want the videos you upload to be more natural. You could even do behind-the-scenes style footage, or interview a celebrity with bloopers. So, when someone watches your ad film on TV, they see a finished version of your idea, and on Instagram Stories, they’d get a totally different perspective. That’s where you’d make the connection as a brand: one story, with two unique angles.
Script writers and directors bring stories to life on cinema, while Kodak is just the medium. Similarly, social media is just that – platforms on which your brand’s stories can take centre stage. Admittedly, it’s a lot more challenging now. You can’t just approach an idea with one script. You’d probably need to put in a lot more work to come up with two or three different scripts. Production costs are also going to be higher when you’re shooting for different platforms at once. Still, for brands who take the plunge, they get a much better return on investment on their media spend.
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Director, Global Clients | Former Head of Facebook Creative Shop