What film making teach us about brand identity
Take a look at this ad campaign by clothing retailer H&M.
Yes, that’s Adrian Brody, on a train, in an ad for H&M.
It’s a somewhat odd sensation watching a Christmas ad at any time other than Christmas, but this ad is striking all year round, namely, because it was directed by none other than Wes Anderson.
Anderson’s work is easily identifiable for its fairy tale-inspired cinematography and the somewhat folk-like tales he tends to tell.
His films have become so ingrained in our collective cultural consciousness that there are even countless Anderson-inspired parodies to be found online.
However, it’s not simply Anderson enthusiasts online that are attempting to invoke his work in theirs. Advertisers and brands are all too aware of the power of his often innocent and dream-like, but always irresistibly inviting fictional worlds, that they too are beginning to see how a well done ad that captures this essence can give their brands some of the qualities associated with his oeuvre.
Anderson himself describes it as his “handwriting as a movie director. … I’m going to write in my own handwriting.”
Let’s take a look at a couple of examples and see what kind of things they evoke.
As part of McDonald’s reinvention, or rather their ongoing repositioning of the brand as an agriculturally as well as nutritionally responsible choice, in a market that’s increasingly striving for credibility.
Fast food isn’t always seen as a good choice due to the contents of the food on offer, or so it’s seemed, but McDonald’s clever ad, which pays homage to Anderson with the use of colourful characters and quaint settings, reassures us that their product is different.
What’s more, as McDonald’s pay close attention and cast a truthful eye over the perception of the brand (at least in the UK), the indie feel of an Anderson homage feels particularly fitting, as it reminds us the viewer that what we’re watching is something like independent film-making. It seems like DIY cinema, on a shoe-string budget, which is authentic and real. And that is, helpfully, exactly the message McDonald’s want to share.
The charming characters and camp, extroverted, almost 1970s stylings of the characters here bring real charm to the brand. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking the character of Wilson in the McDonald’s ad wasn’t actually Bill Murray’s character Steve Zissou from Anderson’s ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’.
So then, McDonald’s use Anderson’s style to give the brand an air of authenticity, as well as to create credible, likeable characters, who in turn we trust to bring us the best product, but how would a different brand with a different product create their own Wes World?
One of the first things you will notice about this ad is the matching suits, then the matching dresses. As Rolling Stone put it, Anderson has always “found ways to make clothes comment on his characters.”
The second perhaps, will be the font of the ‘cast’, which cheekily includes “Free WiFi”. The font, as it happens, is Futura, the very same font Anderson has used in his films and is now a motif one would expect to see in any film of his.
It’s an unmistakable font with a plethora of associations.
What you’ll also notice here is how Premier Inn use their staff like characters in a miniature universe, in the same way McDonald’s do. It means the ad sits somewhere between reality and fiction. We know this kind of world, the one Anderson would create, doesn’t really exist.
Rolling Stone describe The Grand Budapest Hotel, the film that this ad pays homage to, as being set in “a never-quite-was 20th-century Europe”. It’s realism, but not as we know it.
This ties in brilliantly with what Premier Inn are - a hotel. It’s an escape. From work, from the day-to-day, from the humdrum. And what better framework than a Grand Budapest Hotel-inspired birthday party. A birthday, i.e. that one day of the year unlike any other for every individual.
But the breakfast, the decor, the service, they’re all real. So we’re at once in a playful world of semi-fantasy and reality, giving us the sense Premier Inn is somewhere both adventurous, unreal, and yet within our grasp. It’s a fine balancing act.
Do H&M sell the outfit Adrian Brody’s train driver character was wearing?
Is Steve really a quality-assurance officer for McDonald’s?
Is wearing a bespoke suit a prerequisite to staying at the Premier Inn?
The answer to all of these questions is, to quote my magic 8 ball, ‘don’t count on it’. However, that’s not to say they don’t share a common message, namely that their brands want to be considered as quaint and comforting as Wes Anderson’s familiar style, if not the fairly zany plots those films have.
Will more brands in future seek out a cultural connection to then connect with their customers? As my magic 8 ball might say, ‘Outlook good.’
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