Advertisers have a fine line to tread these days. On the one hand, there's a bunch of regulation (and, you'd argue, just good business practice) to make sure promises are true to life, products are shown realistically and authenticity rules.
But on the other, to say you're fighting for attention in a crowded market is an understatement, particularly at events like the Super Bowl which is renowned for not just the sport but also for some of the world's biggest brands vying for attention with an eye-catching ad. So how do you grab attention in that nanosecond before customers look back down at their phones or go off to make a cup of tea?
In a bid to be bigger, better, faster, braver, we've seen increasing numbers of advertisers looking to computer generated images (CGI) or Visual Effects (VFX) to create that bang that grabs the consumer's buck.
There's no shortage of proof that CGI and VFX can deliver. We've been lucky enough to be involved in the creation of era-defining work for John Lewis with Monty the Penguin and Buster the Boxer.
It's hard to talk about these ads without sounding like we're blowing our own trumpet but the headlines speak for themselves. The Mirror showcased consumer's emotions from the ads "John Lewis Christmas advert sparks surge in people wanting boxer dogs as bouncing Buster captures hearts" and also picked us three prestigious VES Awards this week; while AdWeek claimed "John Lewis may already have won Christmas with its adorable Penguin ad" in 2014.
We think it's safe to say that we'd have been hard pressed to achieve the same result with a live action penguin. Sir David Attenborough certainly manages to pluck the heartstrings filming several hundred thousand of them in the South Atlantic but even John Lewis couldn't get a similar awww factor or relevance, filming a handful of birds for a 30 second ad.
This is what using CGI and VFX brings. It makes the impossible possible in the context of a great ad. And it's very important to realise that the reverse is not true. CGI does NOT make a great ad just by making the impossible possible.
Because, no matter how much great technology and talent you have at your fingertips to make seriously beautiful images - CGI and VFX only takes you part way without a great creative concept.
What CGI gives you is the total freedom to write any idea. If you need to shoot an astronaut in space, but the reality is a green screen studio in South London, CGI provides. If you want a fox to bounce on a trampoline but like the idea of keeping all your limbs, VFX is your friend.
What CGI also cannot and should not do is put lipstick on a pig. Technology cannot get in the way of authenticity. However, there is nothing wrong with using CGI to make a budget go further and bring Bora Bora to Basildon.
Equally, as a marketer you need to examine your permission to use CGI. By that, we mean is a fox on a trampoline a good fit for your brand?
For John Lewis, customers expect a show-stopping experience and a degree of fantasy storytelling that fits with the trusted brand. Customers want it to pull out almost magical stops to help their family create that fabulous, festive experience. It's not about showing the functional benefits of a Kitchen Aid, it's about bringing the magic of Christmas hope and expectation to life.
More recently the Super Bowl, probably the most forensic slice through annual ad trends you can get, had its share of CGI and VFX treatments and was a delightful lesson in what flies, effects-wise.
Honda is always true to its 'Power of Dreams' strapline. It used VFX to bring US celebrities' yearbooks to life. A win in emotion and on-brand sentiment, and absolutely nothing to do with cars. Yet it stood out in a crowded arena of advertisers very expensively waving their hands in the air and shouting 'Me! Me! Look at Me!'.
Another car ad for Kia nailed its environmental message using CGI by marmalising comedienne, Melissa McCarthy, over and over again. While we're sure she's as game as the next actor, hefty insurance no doubt prevents her being smacked against a trawler by an actual whale. Very funny though.
There is an argument for powerfully shot, simple executions that barely touched an edit suite. A simple, sardonic skit featuring John Malkovic was a triumph for domain name registration company, SquareSpace.com. But not everyone can be John Malkovic.
Ultimately, CGI has to be part of the DNA of both the ad and the brand. In terms of imagery, it has to blend seamlessly with the environment and be done well. Audiences and their viewing technology are unforgiving and era of austerity or no, you'll be crucified for looking as though you've done it on the cheap or just because everyone else is.
CGI is not a trend to follow or a cheap option. To do well it needs that time and skill to produce a polished product. But if it's a choice between Monty in VFX or a hundred thousand penguins in the South Atlantic, it's certainly the economical choice.
Today's consumer wants a whole smorgasbord from its advertisers. Relevancy, authenticity and economy as well as beauty and entertainment. Given time and thought, CGI and VFX really do make wishes come true.
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