Using a Fictional Narrative Approach to Promote Your Client’s Business

There is so much noise on the internet these days that when you create a film or video to help communicate or promote your client’s brand, you need to do something that can grab the viewer’s attention in seconds. One way to do that is to bypass a traditional documentary or voice-over expositional approach in favor for a fictional narrative (i.e. make up a cool story).

A couple of weeks ago I shared with you the importance and purpose of creating a detailed creative brief. This week is the premiere of the short film to which that blog post was referring. I want to use it as a case study in using a fictional narrative story structure to produce a film designed to promote your clients’ businesses.

This method for marketing commercial brands certainly isn’t new. Even back before there was YouTube, BMW did it excellently with their “The Hire” series starring Clive Owen.


This was a series of 8 short films directed by world-class directors (Wong Kar Wai and Guy Ritchie just to name a couple). Each film was centered around Owen’s character being hired to drive someone somewhere in a BMW. The films were thrilling and excellently illustrated the power, handling and beauty of the cars.

A more recent example was Apple’s “Misunderstood” holiday video last Christmas about a brooding teen who seems hopelessly distracted by his iPhone. We learn by the end that he was really creating a touching family video. And just a couple of weeks ago I read a blog post on The Music Bed about the team behind the Vimeo Staff pick “The Encounter Collection”, a short film about a father who goes off to war and leaves a leather bag for his son. (The product was the bag).

Beyond the Usual

The film I created is about Aline Bloch, a Parisian woman who makes furniture out of cardboard. As I wrote in the creative brief post, I wanted to create something that went beyond the usual cinematic documentary style where we hear the artist talk about the passion of her craft. I’ve done that a gajillion times with photographer promos. I do it now with traditional commercial work. I will continue to do it. It’s a perfectly fine strategy for communicating a brand. But there was something about this project that begged to do something special.

I thought about what it is Aline does. She takes discarded pieces of cardboard and makes them beautiful works of art strong enough for an adult to sit or stand on. I thought of the slug line: “Sometimes beauty and strength can be found in the most unusual places.” EUREKA! That would be my angle.

I wrote a poem about the feeling we all have at times. That feeling of low self-esteem, self-doubt and self-loathing. That feeling that you don’t amount to anything. But all it takes is one person to see something special in you. It could be a teacher. A coach. A doting mother.

Americans love the sound and cadence of the French language. Comedians joke that even the most crass sentences when said in French sound like poetry. So I knew I would have Aline and her husband translate the poem so she could recite the voice over in her native tongue. (This was my first time directing someone in a different language. I may have to write a separate blog post about that experience. 🙂 ) The result is a film that I hope will connect with viewers emotionally, while at the same time illustrating Aline’s unique craft.

The film is actually the premiere episode of a short film series I’ve created to highlight unique people and places in the greater Seattle metro—SoundandSEA.TV – Voices & Visions of Seattle. Episode 2 is in pre-production now and will bring together a jazz trio, a rock guitarist and two rappers. (Stay tuned for that one).

Here’s the film. Just below I offer four tips for using this strategy to promote a client’s work.

Four Tips to Make It Work

At the end of the day, if you’re producing work like this to promote a client’s business, it still needs to do its job. It can’t just be a vehicle for you to win your latest Telly or Clio award. So here are four tips to keep in mind.

  1. The Features Should Star. The film you create must rise above product placement. Don’t just arbitrarily drop the client’s product or service into the film. The features of the product or service should play a key role in “the journey” your main character takes. (“The Hire” series did this excellently for BMW).
  2. Grab Attention (Quickly). One thing about the BMW films that worked back in the early 2000s that may be a harder sell today is their length. Most of them are 8+ minutes long. I recommend making these kind of films short (ideally in the 2-minute range). Grab the viewer’s attention right away. I attempted to do this with the image of the little girl at the beginning combined with the subtitle.
  3. Go For Emotion. The film should elicit emotion from the viewer. Make her connect to the film at a deeper level. The “Misunderstood” iPhone commercial did that brilliantly. I hope I did it with this piece. But that emotion could also be laughter. Adobe’s “Click, Baby, Click” video for their cloud marketing service is a great example.
  4. Start with a Great Script. Don’t underestimate the power of a good script. If you lack the writing and imagination skills to come up with a compelling story that can do all of the above, hire a writer and work that fee into what you charge the client. (Actually, whether or not your hire someone else to write the script for you, you need to charge for writing).

Those are my tips. Have you made promotional films like these? If so, share your tips in the comments.