Claire Beale On Advertising: An Absolut break from the norm

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The Independent Online

Director Spike Jonze has made his first love story. It's a short one, a 30-minute film. And strange. Naturally. Its melancholic and dreamy, loved-up stars are two robots, one a librarian, the other a free-spirited lady android. They're all plastic and wire, like reclaimed computing cast-offs from a decade or two back. Retro, for robots. But they talk like you and me. And they live in LA.

The film's already had an airing at Sundance, but you can catch it at small premieres around the country in London, Manchester and Edinburgh over the next few weeks. You can forget the red carpet, though. Screenings will take place in car parks, bike stores, cafés, hairdressers. In ordinary places. Because – as if you didn't know already – ordinary life's more interesting with a slug of vodka.

You see, the film's called I'm Here but there's a subtitle, which gives the game away: "A love story in an Absolut world". Yes, that's not a typo. Absolut vodka has made I'm Here happen.

Spike Jonze was given a brief (and a multimillion-pound budget, though no one's saying how multi) to write a film about how creativity can overcome conformity. Or, as Absolut puts it, working with Jonze on a project like this "reinforces the brand's pioneering and culture-shaping credentials".

Apparently, that was pretty much the sum total of the demands made by Absolut. So there's no cack-handed product placement or overt branding in the film. It doesn't push vodka down its audience's throat. Yes, Jonze had to get script and shooting approval from the Absolut mandarins, but this is designed as entertainment, straight up ... brought to you by a booze brand that's spent years building a reputation as a supporter of the arts, going right back to a collaboration with Andy Warhol in 1985.

It's not the first time that advertisers have lassoed big-name directors into the service of their brands. Martin Scorsese did a short for Spanish wine label Freixenet, Shane Meadows directed the Eurostar-funded Somers Town and the internet has become a real playground for quality branded content.

Cynics tend to look at this sort of venture as an expensive indulgence that will never have the cut-through of a 30-second ad on mainstream telly. But though the film may have cost a few million to make, it's potentially far cheaper than hundreds of the commercials you see on TV everyday; clients have to pay broadcasters millions of pounds to have their ad thrust before you; Absolut is hoping Spike Jonze has crafted something you'll seek out – in car parks, cafés, on the web – so bypassing the cost of buying airtime.

And once people have sought the film out, there will be plenty of opportunities – online or face to face – for Absolut to develop deeper relationships with its consumers. Which, as you already know, is what it's all about these days.

Mind you, this isn't the sort of trick you can pull off simply with an interesting idea. The big-name director and/or star is crucial for getting the word of mouth and PR going so that you can then sit back and wait for people to come and find you. And it's quite possible, of course, that the finished piece of content satisfies neither one thing nor the other; in other words that it will fail either to entertain or to build up the brand.

It helps if the director himself knows a thing or two about selling. Spike Jonze has directed ads for Adidas, Gap and Miller. And the film's executive producers are two adlanders: Mark Figliulo and Matt Bijarchi form TBWA\Chiat\Day in the US. So the grip of advertising isn't as loose as it might seem.

Still, I'm Here is as far as you can get from the hectoring, one-way and creatively redundant advertising that proliferates. And, in the end, it's probably more cost effective too.

Best in show: PG Tips (Mother)

From a movie that's an ad (sort of), to an ad that spoofs a movie. This time the movie's When Harry Met Sally and, yes, you guessed it, the spoof is of that scene in the café. You know, the fake orgasm one (does anyone remember anything else about When Harry Met Sally?). But instead of Meg Ryan, it's a knitted monkey enjoying an explosive sexual thrill. According to PG Tips' Monkey, having a cuppa is positively orgasmic. The ad's by Mother and is a real treat. Which is a great relief because the Monkey and Al tea show seemed to be going a little frigid there for a while.

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