Coffee, Cups, and Olives

Now, until two months ago, I never saw myself making commercials. In fact, that is one genre of film production that I had never even attempted (save for one haphazard assignment in a broadcast class my freshman year of high school). In the past I had created, in some way or another, videos in the form of, PSA, news/broadcast story, sketch video, short film, mini-doc, trailerinstructional video, music videovideo podcastwedding videopromotional video, demo reel, and even experimental film, but never commercial. So this post is mostly to explain how I ended up creating four commercials in the last two months and why I have more in the works.

The story begins in my Design and Composition for Digital Cinematography class. Our final assignment was to create a :30 second spec commercial for a product that was already nationally advertised. The goal was to make sure we had an idea of A) how to properly use our Sony FS100 cameras that are provided as part of the program, and B) to put into practice what we had learned about visual composition as it relates to video production.

So my mind immediately went thought of the college student’s best friend, I got some actors together, set up some lights in my kitchen and put this together:

I was pretty happy with the final product, considering it was for a class assignment that I had about a week to work on and editing was limited to cuts only. But that’s beside the point.

About a week or two after I uploaded that video to Vimeo I received an email from a campaign manager at a site called Zooppa saying that they liked my work and I should submit for a contest they were holding for SOLO cups and plates. I was initially a little skeptical, but after some research I found that the service is a really unique one that is actually a great resource for low-budget, high-talent, media producers.

The site is one of a few other services (like Poptent or Tongal) that essentially crowdsource marketing for name brands. This is a really neat concept that I think has a lot of potential and, like I said, is a great resource for budding creatives. The idea is that a brand will bring their marketing campaigns to one of these crowdsourcing sites and offer a set number of prizes for a set amount of money. Then, the crowdsourcing site will post the requirements for the project and make a “contest” out of it that anyone can submit to. After the contest deadline, the site will review the submissions to assess any errors in paper work, copyright violation, and product placement (other than that of the actual brand), and then the brand will assign winners according to their pre-set prizes. A great example of this is when Pizza Hut used Zooppa to gather clips of people saying “hut hut” and compiled them into this Super Bowl commercial in 2013:

Of course, most brands are looking for complete commercial packages rather than just video clips – which you can see more examples of here – but the Pizza Hut commercial is one of the more quickly identifiable projects.

Anyway, after deciding that the email was on the up-and-up, I decided to accept the SOLO cups challenge. I responded to one of the prompts called “SOLO Saves the Day,” and came up with this:

So I figured that was at least a fun way to get into the whole commercial thing. And the great part about sites like Zooppa is that there are constantly new projects being posted. So while I was still considering what project to latch onto next, I was again approached by Zooppa with a request to submit to the Lindsay Olive contest. Now olives aren’t necessarily my bread and butter (sorry) but I figured that as long as I didn’t have to eat any and as long as they asked I might as well give it a go. So after procrastinating to literally the last day before the deadline, I was able to actually submit two commercials to this contest. One :30 second spot:

And a :15 second spot:

But aside from this post being just a show-and-tell of my recent videos, I also wanted to talk about why I’m devoting so much time to this recently and why I think this could be helpful for other creatives who are new to this idea of crowdsourced marketing like I was. So here are a few of the main draws for me personally to this fairly new type of marketing and content creation:

  1. Constant practice. I am always looking for ways to practice my film work extracurricularly, but since I am constantly working on either school-work or work-work, which both generally revolve around video creation in the first place, I rarely have enough motivation to spend my free time coming up with ideas for videos to create on my own. This not only provides me with a constant stream of video assignments that already include prompts and guidelines, but also a monetary incentive to actually get it done.
  2. Thorough practice. From beginning to end, creating a commercial has been described as creating a “min-movie.” Especially for low budget creatives who are doing a lot of the work themselves, these projects provide opportunities to practice writing, casting, directing, filming, editing, and in some cases – like the SOLO project that didn’t provide opening/end tags – motion graphics work. And because the prompts are generally very open-ended, there is ample room to add your own flare and use any given project as a learning experience for any technique or skill that you want to work on.
  3. Gauging where you rank with other creatives. Since the projects are completely open to the public – did I mention that it doesn’t cost anything to sign up to these sites and submit to contests? – the range of product quality is enormous. That means that there will almost always be entries in every contest that are better and worse than yours. So even if you don’t win or even place in a certain competition, it’s still pretty easy to tell how your work holds up against the other entries.
  4. Real world preparation. The fact that the projects are posted by actual brands and have prompts and guidelines set by the brands means it’s a good way to get used to restricting your own personal vision to fit what the client wants. Only in this environment there is much less pressure because if the client doesn’t like your project they can just pick a different one and you can try again with a different contest.

All in all I think this is a very unique and profitable form of marketing, both for brands and creatives, and I am personally looking forward to creating more commercial projects through this medium to improve my own skills. It costs as much or as little as you want to create a short video and the potential payout is substantial, not only in terms of monetary prizes, but the opportunity to gain experience, skill, and connection with a group of creatives with the similar goals is equally, if not more, rewarding.

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