What Can Advertising Learn From the Film Industry?

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Recipe creative director, Matt Waller, muses over techniques and learnings that he and adland could steal from the world of cinema
What Can Advertising Learn From the Film Industry?

The way that people absorb cinema is an advertiser’s dream. Great sound, big screen, and an audience who have paid good money to be there. Cinema is king when it comes to demanding undivided attention.

Cinema is often seen as the pinnacle of filmmaking and creativity. But it can be argued that it’s easier for film with those big fat budgets. On the flip side though, doesn’t this mean that they have a lot more at stake if things don’t land? And yet, it seems that cinema directors are - more often than not - a lot more adventurous.

Cinema isn’t just tv scaled up, in the same way, that social media isn’t just square TV. But there are certain things we can borrow (or let’s be honest, steal) from the world of cinema.

Some of the best moments in films are ad-libbed. Almost any film with Bill Murray is littered with his genius ad-libbing. And who can forget the lines; “You talkin’ to me?”

We should be encouraging this sort of thing. Or at the very least making room for it. After all, every advertiser wants a more relatable, more authentic piece of communication. We’re so frightened of things being unfunny or not ‘on brand’ that we become too controlling over the process resulting in an unnatural, unfamiliar and often unfunny dialogue. Sure have a plan, but also have a plan B and plan C and then throw it in the air and ad-lib.

And so what if we only have 30 seconds or a couple of minutes? This can be a blessing in disguise. Some of the best creativity in history was born out of restriction. When tobacco companies were banned from showing anyone enjoying their product they started doing their most creative and memorable work.

The scripts that I love to work on at Recipe are those with a strong narrative. Stories are engaging; they make people automatically lean in. Our favourite films are all about characters and we should keep this in mind when casting for an ad. Instead of focusing on securing the spot-on ‘target customer’, push for ‘different’, not because we are contrary ‘creative’ types, but because they are memorable. 

Then, like in films, give them character or back-story, however thin. The checkout girl who’s bored and chewing gum, the CEO who fancies the security guard. These side stories or two-dimensional characters rarely get written into ads. It’s simply ‘Shop Assistant 1’ or ‘CEO’. When you have an interesting story featuring people with feelings, your audience can’t help but lean in.

And does our advertising story always have to have an 'everything is fantastic' message? Why are we isolating every other emotion that makes us human? I want to see anger, sadness, indifference, surprise… Curry’s #SpareTheAct campaign with Jeff Goldblum always sticks out for me as they played on the relatable moments of disappointment we’ve all felt after receiving an underwhelming Christmas present. 

Recipe’s work with Aussie also draws upon life’s not-so-rosey moments. The shampoo promises you great hair, but it never promises to fix your awkward situations. 

The 'happy happy' story is deemed a safe option but most likely to get ignored. With the Boris Johnson Aussie ad, we took a risk creating a reactive piece of work and it paid off, being placed front page of both the Evening Standard and Metro.


It must be noted that cinema techniques on their own are shallow in the commercial world. Ads need to be able to persuade. But we don’t always have to tell you why you should buy. Sometimes the most convincing tactic is to make people fall in love with your brand, or at least the ad, just like film often wins you over in the first scene. Think Reservoir of Dogs. Once engaged, our brains are naturally wired to validate our love for something, providing us with excuses to buy the products from a brand we respond well to.

So what’s next? Cinema always strives to stay one step ahead of what audiences have at home. When surround sound got introduced into the home, they went one step up and introduced atmos sound.

There’s plenty of opportunities for advertising to become more experiential too. More and more people view ads on their phone whilst scrolling through social media with their headphones in. That opens us up to enhancing the experience through binaural, 3D sound. The industry has some great potential on the horizon. 

If we can refresh our thinking, shake up our creative ideas and stir the pot a little, we can be more like our cousins over in cinema - big and loud.

Matt Waller is creative director at Recipe. For more information about Recipe, please click here.
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