Bailey Calfee
Apr 16, 2024

Why brands are leaning into spoofing film genres

Leaning into entertainment storytelling catches consumer attention while giving brands more creative freedom.

(Photo credit: CeraVe, used with permission)
(Photo credit: CeraVe, used with permission)

A single woman living in a big city, discouraged by her dating prospects and looking for a deep connection, finds love when and where she least expects it. 

A couple takes the leap of moving in together, but the woman finds herself feeling increasingly haunted by a strange disappearance—which comes to a head when her boyfriend brings his parents over for a visit.

Both of these scenarios sound like movie plots: The former, a romantic comedy, and the latter, a horror flick. But they’re actually the basis for new work for CeraVe and Scott, respectively, both released last week. 

CeraVe’s work is a rom-com spoof, wherein a woman searching for love finds what she’s looking for in CeraVe’s moisturising sunscreen, as recommended by her dermatologist.  

Meanwhile, Scott’s work parodies a horror film that follows a woman who is haunted by empty toilet paper rolls after her boyfriend picks up an off-brand product that runs out quickly. The nightmare ends with her trapped in her bathroom without toilet paper as her husband comes home with his parents in tow.

As entertainment and advertising collide, and as consumers tune out of traditional ads, brands are increasingly tapping into styles and formats used by film and television genres, including reality dating shows, true crime and more. 

According to Geoffrey Goldberg, cofounder and CCO of creative agency Movers+Shakers, the rise of social media has created a space and consumer demand for brands to make their advertising more entertaining versus interruptive.

“When TikTok is people's new Netflix, it demands a certain type of storytelling—and when video-first content is what everyone's looking for on social media, they want it to be entertaining,” he said.

Campaigns that mimic popular entertainment styles have found great success with their audiences. Scott’s most recent campaign is a follow-up to another long-form video, The Clogging, which also adopts the horror film genre. As of publication, The Clogging has 2.7 million views on YouTube.

E.L.F. Cosmetics released a true crime mockumentary called Cosmetic Criminals in January, created in partnership with Movers+Shakers. It tells the story of a mom stealing makeup from her daughter—or, as the brand describes it, “intergenerational cosmetic theft.” The 14-minute film has nearly six million views on YouTube, with several comments noting viewers were captivated by the content even though they usually don’t pay attention to advertising. 

Entertainment-driven storytelling is “how consumers want to engage with content—you are watching a movie, yet it does the lift of what a traditional ad needs to communicate,” said Rob Lenois, CCO at VaynerMedia, the agency behind the Scott work.

Why adopting film formats works 

According to Goldberg, this creative approach is resonating with consumers because they fall under “formulas and formats that people just know they love.”

“They know how it works [and] they want to see the result,” he added.

Entertainment-style work has a unique ability to “capture viewers’ attention and get them invested in the plot line,” said Adam Kornblum, CeraVe’s SVP and global head of digital marketing, adding that spoofing a rom com allowed the brand to highlight the benefits of SPF without “just shoving product details and SPF information at them.”

Amber Smith, senior brand manager at Scott parent company Kimberly-Clark, added that blending advertising with long-form entertainment gave Scott “a runway to bring the brand personality and values to life in a different way than short-form videos can.”

Entertainment storytelling also gives brands the “permission to be more front and center,” noted Goldberg, while avoiding the hard selling, interruptive formats that consumers are increasingly disinterested in.

And it can help brands personify their products and tap into universal truths. CeraVe’s rom-com spoof, for example, positioned its product as the romantic lead, overlapping the traits its main character wants in a partner with the capabilities of a good SPF: rich but not greasy, always protective, not just a summer fling. And Scott’s The Unraveling taps into a universal fear—being caught in a compromising position in the bathroom with no toilet paper—making the work inherently relatable.

How to make these campaigns actually work 

While longform, entertainment-driven storytelling has the potential to strengthen consumers’ relationships with a brand while bringing in new customers, it can be difficult to get right.

Since they require more time from their audience, they work best on social media, where viewers are already looking for entertainment. Many YouTube commenters on The Clogging video noted that they were served the ad before another video but chose not to skip it.

With the right storyline, these ads don’t necessarily have to be long-form—as long as they’re easy to translate into short-form cuts. All three of Scott’s 15-second cuts from The Clogging have over one million views, and both cuts from The Unraveling have nearly 800,000 views apiece. 

The main challenge is in finding the right insight that taps into an audience to hit virality.

Burger King’s 2023 commercial, The Call, for instance only garnered 80,000 views on YouTube despite mimicking a classic slasher film. Rather than being based on an audience insight, the ad announced the return of its Ghost Pepper menu items.

On the other hand, E.L.F.’s Cosmetic Criminals campaign was created based on the real insight that its customers’ family members were stealing their products and vice versa. Add that to the fact that a majority of young women love the true crime genre, and the work tapped into the audience it was trying to serve.

In Scott’s case, Smith cited “the insight that consumers feel a financial squeeze and now, more than ever, they value long-lasting products” as the launch point for The Unraveling. “Horror felt like the natural genre to showcase what a nightmare it can be to run out of toilet paper,” she added.

These campaigns can be made more powerful through the right partnerships. Since they’re longer than traditional ads and more expensive to produce as a result, partnering with the right talent to amplify these campaigns can increase chances of success. 

CeraVe cast a dermatologist-slash-influencer in its campaign and expanded the reach of its film spoof by partnering with reality dating show stars and movie reviewers that felt like natural extensions to promote a rom-com film.

With the help of these partners, Kornblum said CeraVe is able to engage in “unexpected and new conversations.”

“You don't think SPF and rom-coms go hand in hand, so by partnering with creators embedded within the cinematic and reality dating space we were able to tell this story in a more entertaining, authentic way while highlighting the importance of SPF,” he added.

When done right, there is an opportunity with these formats “to think about your brand as an entertainment property that creates amazing products and services—not just a product company that tells stories,” noted Goldberg. 


Campaign US

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