Warning: Contains extremely engaging and very distracting video

Have you heard? Hollywood heavyweights Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Di Niro and Brad Pitt are to star in a new film. If that’s not impressive enough, Martin Scorsese is directing, and the whole thing was written by The Wolf of Wall Street’s Terrence Winter. But there is a catch. It’s not a feature length film, rather a short, branded picture – albeit costing $70 million. And the brand behind it? Studio City, a new casino in Macau.

Here’s a trailer of the ‘ad’.

Short branded films are fast emerging as an effective content marketing tactic, although the idea isn’t exactly new. Branded videos have been showing up across the web for a number of years now, the trend fuelled by the popularity of video content on social media. According to research published last year, one in three Britons view at least one online video a week. And it’s predicted that this content format will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic by 2017.

The increasing use of video online has been greatly influenced by the widely held view that TV commercials don’t really work in a digital context. Unlike TV, where interruptive marketing is an accepted part of the viewer experience, people have different expectations when they go online.

With so much other noise going on, sparing 60 seconds to watch an ad – whether a pre-YouTube clip, an item on a Facebook feed, or a pop-up on a news article – seems like a lot for a brand to ask of viewers. In order to grab their attention, brands have to produce something audiences will find interesting or entertaining, or both. Anything but a shameless plug. Because of this, branded videos have been evolving in content and quality.

Red Bull is a prime example of a brand that’s exploiting the power of digital video to the full. With over three million subscribers to their YouTube channel, they have amassed a huge audience desperate to see more of their adrenalin-filled content, which is centred on showcasing people pushing themselves to the limits and undertaking extreme feats. It makes for spectacular viewing.

Red Bull’s ‘The Ridge’, a short film featuring mountain bike rider Danny Macaskill, is a particularly popular one (over 28 million views). Full of stunning imagery, it follows the athlete on a ride across the challenging Cuillin Ridgeline in his native home, the Isle of Skye.

US taco and burrito chain Chipotle has also been employing a branded video approach for some time. Last year, they went even further and made a four-part comedy series which satirises the world of industrial agriculture. Called ‘Farmed and Dangerous’, the show was released on video platform Hulu with each episode running for about 20 minutes. The aim was to promote the brand’s Food with Integrity mission, and its success has prompted plans for a second one.

Chipotle’s approach has been successful for them in the past too. Their previous ‘Back to the Start’ and ‘The Scarecrow’ videos notched up over 22 million YouTube views combined. The brand value message – to cultivate a better future – runs through all three of these video campaigns.

The online audience’s embrace of video has emboldened brands to develop the short film format. As more people turn away from TV and consume video online, this content format has been progressing in quality.

With the Australian Open underway, the Grand Slam’s sponsor, Jacob’s Creek winery, aired its ‘Made by’ short film featuring world number one player Novak Djokovic. The film looks at Djokovic’s journey from a child growing up in post-war Serbia to becoming Wimbledon champion. Jacob’s Creek appears to take on the role of production company, with a ‘Jacob’s Creek presents’ lead-in at the beginning on the film. But there’s no unabashed plugging or in-your-face promotional messages here, rather an amazing story to be told.

And the Times recently launched their Unquiet Film Series campaign, a sequence of short films exploring the stories behind the stories, and the journalists who told them. The documentary-style films look at breaking news stories like the Lance Armstrong doping scandal and World Cup corruption allegations, as well as what it’s like to be a war reporter and a photo journalist. A film on popular Times cartoonist Peter Bookes is also included, a particularly timely piece given the recent attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

The Times makes no bones about what it’s all about, saying on the website that the aim of the project is to create “emotive pieces of content rather than traditional advertising”.

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