Ads look to capture movie magicEven trend-savvy fashion and entertainment industry professionals were taken aback when they received invitations to an opening-night party ― for a TV commercial.
Commercials on TV are only split-second images put together in rapid succession, so how long could the gala take? But then again, the brand in the spotlight was none other than Giordano, a major import fashion brand with 92 stores nationwide. The brand made its name with a series of commercials that featured the biggest stars of the Korean Wave: Jeon Ji-hyun, Jang Dong-gun and Jeong Woo-seong. Then again, the 150-plus spectators who turned up at a posh Hongdae studio earlier this year could have come on the suspicion that Gang Yong-ho, the celebrity photographer who worked for Giordano, would reveal a few scandalous shots to make things interesting.
The event unveiled one of the longest-running films made as a commercial, by the Korean commercial director Park Sung-min. What made this advertisement distinctive was that the 13-minute film, shown in spring and summer this year, had a movie-like outline and was titled “Happy Together.” The love story was originally made to be used as Internet advertising, while its shorter version was showcased as a teaser on TV and in movie theaters.
The advertising approach is no longer new to Korea and has been popular internationally for a long time, due mainly to the rising number of younger consumers whose media access isn’t limited to the boob tube.
The boundaries between cinema, video games, cartoons, commercials, and other genres are becoming harder to define as they continue to merge and create new forms, all involving entertainment, media and commerce rolled into one.
In the case of Giordano, the company created “admovies,” advertisements made in the form of short films to be viewed mostly on the Internet and other easily-accessible sources.
The biggest admovie internationally to date, in both scale and media attention, was a series of BMW short films titled “The Hire.”
The series, available on the BMW Web site and then released on DVD in 2001, featured popular directors such as Wong Kar-Wai, Guy Richie and John Frankenheimer, and starred Clive Owen in short films lasting eight to 10 minutes. “The Hire” was such a hit that it was followed up with a second season in 2002, in collaboration with directors John Woo, Joe Carnahan and Tony Scott.
It didn’t take long for other automobile companies to follow suit: Nissan made a 20-minute admovie, “The Exit,” in 2002.
Another firm, Volkswagon, made “The Check Up,” a wonderfully humorous, satirical drama about a 31 year-old man faced with an awkward mid-life crisis: he can either be a smart 31 year-old who acts his age, or be an irresponsible dude who ends up getting another Jetta, Volkswagon’s new model.
In Korea, one of the precursors to this was a commercial made by Park Seong-beom, an established filmmaker who co-directed a Korean film, “I Wish I had a Wife.” In 2001, he made an admovie for several brands: Bennigan’s, Maeil Dairy’s Cafe Latte, P&G’s Febreeze.
But it wasn’t until earlier this year that big-name brands went back for another crack at the international advertising trend.
Following the international campaign, BMW Korea decided to launch its own short film series. The Korean version included three short films, directed by the leading auteurs Kim Sung-su, Kim Ki-duk, and Cha Eun-tek. The films were intended to appeal to the younger generation’s “emotional needs.”
“The series took on a new media form and was well-received,” said Kim Young-Eun. Ms. Kim is the director of public relations at BMW Korea.
The primary reasons behind the appeal may be that admovies can be seen at any time on the brand’s Web site or on DVDs, both modes of communication that are particularly popular with young adults.
Admovies usually don’t highlight the product in an obvious, aggressive format, or drill into the heads of viewers the product name and its functions. Rather, the films take a more subtle, if not artistic, approach.
The Giordano admovie is a good example: it borrows heavily from the French New Wave of filmmaking in the 1960s.
The admovie does not once mention the brand name nor explicitly promote its new line of clothing, but is a well-put-together series of picturesque still cuts and poetic monologues.
Another hot topic this year has been the four-part series of commercials for LG Cyon mobile phones, which star the hottest tickets in Korean entertainment, Kim Tae-hee and Won Bin. Although the series was made for and regularly shown on television, it is part of the new movement in advertising in that each commercial lasts 90 seconds, substantially longer than normal commercials. The average TV commercial in Korea, excluding those on cable TV, is 15 to 20 seconds long.
The LG commercial has a special format, in which the four commercials are part of one story. The series portrays the two stars in an attractive yet humorous manner. There is little emphasis on the product in question, and the format of the series was a hit among young consumers, the advertisement’s primary target.
“The commercial really hit the right nerve for people in their 20s like myself, in that the message about the phone wasn’t obvious,” said Jung Mi-hwa, a 24-year-old student at the Seoul Institute of the Arts.
On Korea’s largest portal site created by a local advertising firm, www.tvcf.co.kr, over 1,000 individual viewer comments on the LG Cyon commercial labeled the ad fresh, new and funny.
Each admovie is unique, but all are about being new and stylish, and most of all, effective.
The ultimate goal of admovies, at least for the moment, lies in creating brand awareness among a specific target group.
“The admovies were effective at raising awareness of the German motors for Koreans in their 20s and 30s, who might not have been comfortable with the brand at first,” said Ms. Kim.
It’s still unclear, however, whether admovies actually boost sales. Industry professionals insist that they have made a noticeable landmark in the rapidly-changing world of advertising by creating a new way to introduce a product and by meeting an “emotional need” of the younger generation. That is, even if the actual short-term profit is difficult to measure, the promotional aspect of admovies justify their creation.
Ms. Kim remains hopeful, though, that in the long run the company will be able to reach out to the target audience effectively. “In the world of marketing, long-term advantages are well worth the wait,” she said.
‘The cinematic element does have an impact’
The IHT-JoongAng Daily caught up with director Park Sung-min to get his views on admovies and other trends.
How did you get into Korean advertising?
I completed my courses at the New York Visual School of Arts in 1995 and came back to Korea. I’ve been in this business for 10 years now. I made many commercials for Korean companies, most of which I don’t even remember. I started out making TV commercials for cars, which got me traveling around the world extensively. Industry people used to tell me they found cinematic elements in my works.
You’ve worked on some steamy commercials before.
I made a Giordano commercial last year with Jeon Ji-hyun and Jeong Woo-seong. The ad is about two actors dancing in a club, but it was cut up everywhere and finally censored. Nothing really showed, but the Korean censorship board found the mood and nuance were too sexual when it first showed in movie theaters and on the Internet, so it never made it to TV.
Doesn’t your Giordano admovie imply a “threesome?”
In Korea, we call it “friendship,” and in the film, they are fully dressed, you know. I haven’t made another admovie since the Giordano commercial. There was talk of making a sequel because of the ambiguous ending of the story, but that hasn’t been confirmed.
What do you think of the current advertising tactics?
TV still is an important medium, but a lot of young people these days watch TV over the Internet. Even if they missed a program, they can watch it again on the Internet anytime. That means the Internet takes up a bigger portion of people’s lives, and the Internet and TV are no longer two separate entities. Because the Internet can be used at one’s convenience, a commercial can be extended and viewed a number of times online.
At the moment, there are only a few programs made for digital-media broadcast (DMB) phones, but I predict that in the near future more people will be watching TV and other programs over their mobile phone.
It’s a trend right now for TV commercials to be shot in a movie style, because the message has to be delivered in 15 seconds and it’s very, very expensive on regular TV. For a lower cost and a longer time, cable TV and the Internet have found their own niche as an important outlet for advertising. In order to deliver a strong message, a new format that can appeal to people has been created. A cinematic element in commercials does have an impact on a viewer’s mind.
What is your latest commercial project?
I just did one TV commercial for Anycall with Moon Geon-young, and I’ve finished the post-production at Seoul Vision.
The point is to show that DMB phones can be used anywhere, anytime. So we went to Jeju Island and other remote destinations in Korea.
I’d like to make feature-length movies in the future, though.
by Ines Cho, Cho Jae-eun