In the cutthroat auto market, advertisers are continuing to experiment with short film.

By Warren Berger

It's been five years since BMW and its agency Fallon Worldwide produced a series of short films that stirred consumer interest, garnered industry awards and acclaim, and seemed to open the door for a whole new approach to melding filmmaking and advertising. But if anyone expected "The Hire" from BMW Films to launch a new wave of similar films promoting cars, it was slow to happen, particularly in the American automotive market, where 30-second commercials have continued to hold sway.

However, film experimentation in the car advertising category does seem to have shifted into a higher gear in the past year in Europe, as evidenced by campaigns from Honda, Nissan, and Mercedes in the U.K. And while similar efforts in the U.S. market have been rare, in recent months Volkswagen did venture into the mini-moviemaking arena with a short film promoting its new Jetta model.

Does this indicate that a new era is now underway, with car advertisers finally ready to cast aside more standard commercials in favor of fare that features unconventional lengths, formats, and filming techniques? It may be too soon to call it a trend, but some automotive agency creatives say something is afoot.

"It seems to be happening more in Europe so far," observes Bruce Bildsten, the longtime Fallon creative director who oversaw the making of "The Hire" (and who recently left Fallon). Bildsten believes that European car marketers are currently "being driven by the same thing that drove us when we launched BMW Films, they're really trying to find new ways to connect with consumers."

Some say the change is long overdue in the car advertising sector. "The car category has been one of the least adventurous areas of advertising over the past couple of decades, which is why I think it had to start trying some new things," says Danny Brooke-Taylor, a creative director at TBWA London who worked on a recent series of "Original Drama" short films created on behalf of Nissan. The Nissan series tells a narrative film story in short bites, while other advertisers, including Honda in the U.K. and VW in the U.S., have been pushing the boundaries with longer commercials and films. But all seem to be relying on a sensibility and style that is more akin to cinema than advertising.

The Nissan campaign was, in effect, a 24-part road movie, that was broken down into one-minute mini episodes, which were then broken down further into 10-second film bits that ran during breaks of the television series 24. Subsequently, the bits and pieces were put back together into one uninterrupted film that has been shown in theaters and was included as one of the bonus features on a boxed-set DVD release of the full season of 24.

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