Straight to Video

Short films are the latest advertising trend, as brands seek new ways to communicate with their core customers.

Shooting a video ad in black and white with eerie night-vision lenses might not sound like the best way to promote a product. But a series of such films for racy lingerie brand Agent Provocateur—with the star attraction of Kate Moss, shot by director Mike Figgis—attracted an unprecedented number of customers to the brand’s Web site for the launch.

To view each of the series of four films, called The Four Dreams of Miss X, during which a lingerie-clad Moss wanders through an empty house talking about her dreams, customers had to register on the company’s Web site. But Joe Corre, co-founder and co-owner of Agent Provocateur (with wife Serena Rees), insists that while the increased traffic to the site had helped customers “discover” the brand, the films weren’t designed solely to drive sales online.

“[The films] weren’t about saying, ‘Buy this lingerie and look like Kate Moss,’” says Corre. “They’re a really attractive visual experience—not really a commercial, but another way of communicating.”

And it’s a channel that fashion brands are increasingly adopting to tell their story. Earlier this year, for her fall 2006 show, Erin Fetherston showed Wendybird, a short film shot by Ellen Von Unwerth and starring Kirsten Dunst, in lieu of a runway show, while last year Ritz Fine Jewellery screened a short film starring Chloë Sevigny to launch its London store. And new lingerie brand Pussy Glamore screens a short of behind-the-scenes footage from a recent shoot on its Web site.

Corre says that making a film to show on its Web site not only allows the company to have complete creative control of its content—rather than facing censorship from television and cinema authorities—it also allows the company to speak directly to customers who had actively sought out the movie.

“Why would we purchase a few limited advertising spots [on cinema and television] that would cost us the earth? Unless you’re selling washing powder, that blanket targeting isn’t relevant anymore,” says Corre. “The Internet means you’re attracting the people who really want to see it.”

Unlike Corre, Fetherston showed her film during private screenings in New York, Paris and Milan, rather than online. While she opted for this approach for its “exclusivity,” she said it was difficult for film footage to meet the challenges of making images of samples available for editors and buyers.

“With film, you can’t exactly publish it,” says Fetherston. “We did have many still images published from the film, but that’s like showing a small piece of the puzzle.”

But Fetherston says the positive reaction to the film made up for any constraints that the format imposed. “People are excited by a film as there are so many ways to feel a personal connection to it,” she says. “It’s like letting people into your secrets, into your world.”

Marissa Montgomery, who shows a short film shot by Bryan Adams on her lingerie brand Pussy Glamore’s Web site, agrees. “People want to see, hear and feel your brand,” says Montgomery, whose film was shot by Adams during breaks in shooting the brand’s promotional still shots. “There’s a certain mystique to a fashion shoot, as you never see models speak—but this shows the girls having fun.”

Inevitably, excerpts from both Fetherston’s film and the Agent Provocateur films ended up on YouTube, the video-sharing site. However, Corre said his concern about the films appearing on the Internet paled in comparison with the difficulties the company has had with traditional advertising channels. “It has its pitfalls, but when I think of the battles we’ve had with one censor or another, there is no contest [between the two],” says Corre. “When you need to build an emotional connection with your audience, who is bombarded with advertising every day, you need to constantly push the boundaries.”