Campaign Trail is our analysis of some of the best and worst new creative efforts from the marketing world. View past columns in the archives here.
As original video content continues to mature as a marketing medium, brands are increasingly turning to rich narratives and professional film studios to tell their stories. Often, the cinematic video clips are longer form and feature a quick shot of the product they're promoting. But Adobe Creative Cloud wanted to take things further and entirely remove itself from the spot, posing a unique challenge: How can a brand effectively create a marketing video without any logos, references or brand imagery?
For Adobe, that meant letting its creative partners loose — ad agency Pereira O'Dell, RSA Films and actor-director Zach Braff, of "Scrubs" TV fame — to produce work that's memorable and can more deeply resonate with its target audience of college students.
"It was more like a movie than an ad. We wanted Adobe out of this," Pooja Wadhawan, Adobe's associate creative director, told Marketing Dive. "These students don't want to look at ads, and the more we try to put branding into things, it takes away from their creative freedom. Adobe wants to be in the back, watching and championing creativity."
The 11-minute film, titled "In the Time it Takes to Get There" parodies today's social media influencers through the lens of a 19th century star who's fed up with getting dolled up daily to post selfies that hawk products she hates. Since airing on April 3, the spot has snagged more than 1 million organic views on social media and 150,000 engagements with students, Adobe's target audience for this campaign, per company data shared with Marketing Dive.
A broader look
Adobe is among a number of brands producing original video series and short films to more deeply connect with ad-fatigued consumers on their preferred platforms. In 2015, Marriott International began writing the rulebook for branded film work with its action-comedy series "Two Bellmen" that racked up 22.2 million YouTube views across the three videos. Major brands including Adidas and Budweiser have since attempted similar feats in engagement and potential awareness boost through entertaining videos with a strong storyline.
While most video content — including those by Marriott, Adidas and Budweiser — features the product either visually or through character dialogue, some marketers are taking things further and omitting brand imagery altogether.
"People are going to watch what's interesting to them, so it doesn't have to look like an ad as long as we get their interest," Adobe Creative Director Nancy Lee told Marketing Dive. "There are other ways of making it clear who this piece came from. For example, if it appears on Adobe's social then you know who it's coming from that way."
The conceptual springboard
"In the Time it Takes to Get There" is the result of a broader Adobe campaign that kicked off last year targeting college students. Agency Pereira O'Dell used the campaign's tagline "The future is yours. Make it" as a conceptual springboard to extend the initiative to students not in design-related majors. The goal was to drum up brand awareness and encourage students to "get their hands dirty" in testing Adobe's apps and continue to use them after the contest wrapped up, Wadhawan said.
The broader campaign tagline surrounds Adobe's core message of powering creativity, which led the team to decide they'd start with the students and let its partners steer the rest of the project.
"People are going to watch what's interesting to them, so it doesn't have to look like an ad as long as we get their interest."
Creative director, Adobe
A key challenge of doing film work for brands, according to RSA's Managing Director David Mitchell, is understanding their core values and audience. RSA launched in 1968 by filmmakers Ridley and Tony Scott to work with brands on entertainment content.
"From there it's about a good idea and smart storytelling led by the right director," he told Marketing Dive. "It's also about being open to thinking outside the box when it comes to bringing an idea to life through the production process."
But before filming could begin, Adobe and Braff released a promo video in November 2018 asking college students to submit movie posters created with Creative Cloud tools. The tech brand's team and Braff vetted the 1,000 submissions and selected Boston University student Sam West's creation in January to serve as inspiration for the film that she and Braff would direct.
"It was never about how well the poster was designed or how well our apps were used. It was about the idea, and for [West's] winning poster, you could see a story that could come out of it," Wadhawan said. "Her craft really came through."
After winning the poster contest and working on the film, West was offered a full-time gig at Pereira O'Dell after graduation.
Turning creative talent loose
Each of the poster's main visual elements was featured in the film: apple core, candle, pencil and scissors. The film was unusual, Lee said, as Adobe's products were nowhere in the film and the company had virtually no say in the directing or film production.
"We had to step back and let [Braff and West] create something," Lee said. "I wouldn't say we gave up control, but rather we turned awesome creative talent loose. For Adobe brands at their core, a huge part of it is celebrating the creativity of the people who use our app."