Marketers Should Look Beyond the Dazzle of CGI and Embrace Storytelling

2 auto ads show very different ways to go

Leaders from Glossier, Shopify, Mastercard and more will take the stage at Brandweek to share what strategies set them apart and how they incorporate the most valued emerging trends. Register to join us this September 23–26 in Phoenix, Arizona.

One day this fall, thanks to an Internet rabbit hole I happened to tumble down, I saw an Audi commercial, "Birth," which had come out six months earlier. That's dog years in today's world, so why did this particular ad stop me cold? Because a few days earlier, a somewhat similar commercial, "Fireflies," for Tesla, had been released. And to me, the story of these two spots perfectly defines how the landscape of marketing continues to radically evolve.

Let me back up. Last spring, "Birth" was released by a great agency, working with a terrific production company in "creative consultation" with a hugely successful filmmaker, and was directed by a talented graphics artist who partnered with one of the largest, best effects house in the industry. It is a good car ad, and notable because it was made completely in CG. Plus, the score and SFX are suitably imposing. It got more than 800,000 plus views on YouTube in five months.

Nick Childs Alex Fine

But here's the thing. If you don't know the all-CG part, the story isn't very intriguing. The concept is fine—one car giving birth to another—but it certainly isn't deep storytelling; it's two minutes of a visually sexy assembly line that shows off an effects team's capability. Most importantly, it doesn't have a lot to do with Audi. The ad could be for BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Acura, Cadillac, you name it. And I'm guessing it was very expensive to bring to life. Credits via one industry magazine, where it was an Editor's Pick, list 19 creative and production leads (no space to name the worker bees) for the five companies involved in bringing it to life.

That's one highway to take. But I want to applaud a different path—the one taken with "Fireflies." Also an all-CG auto ad, this beautiful, one-minute film was made by a small, nimble production company, ParachuteTV, and was the brainchild of one person: visionary director Sam O'Hare, someone most people in the industry haven't heard of. It was created as a spec spot for the love of the brand. There is a clear story at its heart, brought to life brilliantly and driven home in a smart and strategic way, and it only could have been made for one company: Tesla. And a handful of people touched the entire process—as in, you can pretty much count them on the fingers of one hand.

In a few days, the spot had more than 200,000 views on Vimeo (with zero paid media), was covered by the Huffington Post, Fast Company and many other outlets (including Adweek), and was tweeted about by the founder of TED. A different path for sure.

I'm excited. There's clearly a new direction we should celebrate and explore. One that truly brings directors and production companies into the full creation process (and, heretically, might even allow them to come up with ideas); pushes for interesting ways to collaborate and make things happen for less money; uses film as a means to continue a story that goes beyond the spot; and aims to get an actual message out, one that resonates deeply with an audience who cares about the thing they like more than they care about who brought a commercial to them and how.

To be clear, I'm not saying this new route is the only way, or the best way. I'm just saying it ain't Robert Frost—there isn't one road, there are many. And some of the branches are the ones I want to head down to see where they go. Most likely, they lead to interesting, unexpected places.

So here's to Sam. And the team at Parachute. Thanks for showing us an off-ramp from the highway of just plowing ahead.

Nick Childs (@NickChilds) is the CCO of Initiative. 

This story first appeared in the Dec. 14 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.