I spend a lot of time on this site, and with clients, talking about how important it is for brands and businesses to think about creating online video content as opposed to merely making ads. The branded videos that go viral and gather all kinds of social activity--shares, comments, likes, forwards, etc.--are the ones that don't look and feel like traditional commercials. Instead, they feel like content, and no one is a better example of this kind of marketing thinking than our own U.S. military.
The U.S. Military Blows Up Content-As-Marketing
The United States military has been creating content as a form of marketing for years, by actively partnering and participating with Hollywood on major military-themed films. Several years ago they also created America's Army, a first-person shooter video game. America's Army was a huge success, chiefly because it was an awesome game--it could have had any other video game production company's logo on it and it wouldn't have looked out of place on the game store shelves.
The game also scored millions of fans and regular players, which only helped further the positive word of mouth, brand recognition, and social buzz that the US Army reaped as a result of the project. In a way, the game was just one big commercial for the military, but it worked because it was an entertaining commercial.
Oh, it's still going strong, by the way, with legions of fans of the current version 3 of America's Army.
The Military Goes Hollywood
Now the U.S. Military has graduated from video games to major motion pictures, with the upcoming Act Of Valor. You've probably seen the trailers on TV like this one:
They put out a special trailer just for the Super Bowl broadcast:
Or the full-length trailer, either in theaters or online:
Maybe you're one of the half a million who watched the Making Of video for the film:
As the radio commercials bombarding my city keep telling me, "everything that happens in Act Of Valor happened to a real Navy SEAL!" The film is a dramatization of real-life military actions, and the cast is mostly comprised of actual former and active-duty servicemen and women.
I made a pretty big deal out of the fact that Hulu and Netflix were getting into the TV production game by creating their own series--with good reason... it is a big deal. But the Army's way out in front of all of them with the concept of creating original entertainment content over traditional ads. Who needs to consult on Hollywood's military movies when you can just cut out the middle man and make your own movie?
This film--like the U.S. Military's "content as marketing" efforts of the past--will succeed. For a great many individuals, a film like this will make them more open to considering a career in the military--even if that life is a bit glamorized by the movie. It'll also probably make them plenty of money--at least what they put into it, and probably then some. (The film is rated 'R', which will likely please the hardcore action movie fans out there).
The day is coming when we're going to see all kinds of things like this, with video games, movies, tv shows, and more entertainment content created by brands looking for a more engaging, more long-term form of online video marketing.
Ultimately, no one's going to care that this movie is just one giant commercial, as long as it entertains them.