The world of marketing and advertising has always been a springboard for film directors, giving them their first chance to show off their creative chops; just witness Michael Bay’s classic “Got Milk?” advert from 1993. Some auteurs never leave the advertising industry and keep making advertising campaigns that showcase their unique style without the restrictions associated with mainstream movie-making.

In this article, I’ll share a few reasons why I think a film director can teach businesses how to improve their video marketing efforts on social media, including using better storytelling techniques, adopting a holistic production management approach, and maximising the results of sharing video online.

Unravelling the mechanics of narrative: emotion, action and theme

When I’m directing video, I’m never happy just telling or showing something to my audience. I want to make them feel it. Emotion is the motor of narrative-based marketing – just watch this Mercedes-Benz ad directed by Andreas Bruns – therefore, the best way to calculate your ROI on any video clip that purports to tell a story is in terms of the “feelings per second” it is able to generate.

But emotion needs motion, and movement needs a direction to be effective. Understanding the emotional physics of a story is the director’s biggest job; she gives a trajectory to the scene by making sure that the people in front of the camera – who may not always be trained actors – aren’t simply going through the motions.

So what if an actor waves his arms; does it mean he’s angry or that he’s cheering someone? The theme of the piece should clear up any misconceptions in the mind of the production team and this will be reflected in the final product, which should ideally provoke an unequivocal reaction from the audience. That is, unless you purposely choose to be ambiguous for effect.

A holistic approach to preparing for production

Making a video is a labour-intensive task that requires very expensive equipment and the cooperation of many professionals to succeed. Or you might hand a phone to an intern and ask them to run around the office before uploading the clip to Facebook. There’s room for a wide range of production arrangements in video marketing: from six-figure international shoots to a guerrilla, run-and-gun type of job.

The truth is that not all types of shoots need a director, but they all can benefit from a director’s touch, even if one is not physically present on set. This touch is specifically the one that connects cast with crew, lens with lines. A director’s mindset is holistic by default and she tries to find the best fit between the resources available and the people involved to do the maximum justice to the story being told.

Of course, there’s another invisible hand controlling everything that happens during the shoot and that is the Brand. Video marketing is video with a commercial purpose, so it’s no surprise that promotion of a business or product gets top billing when prioritising your creative goals.

For example, when I worked on a spec commercial for Hugo Boss’s Reversed collection, we had to follow a very strict brief that placed a lot of restrictions on how the brand was to be portrayed, but a similar advert for Ottobock, a prosthetics company in Germany, gave our team free rein in terms of creative expression.

Maximising the message through the medium

Video marketing works across different media, but social media seems to be tailor-made for it. It’s through Facebook, YouTube and Instagram that the use of video as the primary marketing tool has seen explosive growth in recent years, and it shows no sign of stopping yet.

As more businesses experiment with video marketing on social media, we’ll keep seeing increased interest by companies and creatives who want to learn how to adapt their message to video, and adapt video to social media.

When they say that video marketing gives you results, I think they mean it quite literally. A quick glance at your feed is enough to help you make a snap judgement about the success or otherwise of a clip – its views, likes, and comments will say it all – and digging deeper into your engagement analytics will justify your conclusion or qualify it with insights you can use when creating your next content.

When hearing pitches for a movie, one of things execs look for is a story with “legs”, that is whether it has the potential to become a fully-fledged franchise that can generate sequels, spin-offs, and related content for a fanbase that always wants more. Video marketing offers the same potential for extending the longevity and value of an idea, and a director can give invaluable pointers to help companies build their brand through the consistent use of situations, themes and set of characters.

The future of marketing is video

Businesses looking to use video marketing more effectively in their social media campaigns can learn a lot from the creative experience of film directors.

Firstly, a director recognises the primacy of emotion in moving picture and she can guide actors to elicit a specific response from the audience. Secondly, a director brings a holistic approach to managing creative teams that are producing videos. Lastly, a director helps extract the full potential of an idea by finding different ways to extend its value as a concept for video in a consistent way.

As video becomes increasingly central to marketing strategies, the director’s staple cry “Action!” might be heard more often in commercial settings. Surely, this bodes for greater cooperation between film-makers and marketing teams, and businesses should expect nothing less than star treatment for their video marketing campaigns.


Vanessa Vella is a screen creative who directs, shoots and edits moving images. She directed and produced the short films Punchline and Checkmate. She also directed several episodes of a popular Maltese TV series and worked on commercials, music videos and clips for social media. Watch her showreel here.

Featured image: Behind-the-scenes photo from the set of Punchline. © Mavric Said.

Author Vanessa Vella

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