First, a video featuring 20 "strangers" coupled off and asked to kiss for the first time on camera went massively viral. Then, bloggers beat its makers up because it was a fashion ad. Like it or hate it, there are lessons in this creative maneuver for other fashion brands.
The video might deceive, but the numbers don't lie. Monday morning, film director Tatia Pilieva sent out a link of an online video to 21 people on Facebook, saying they could share the film (in which each of them had played a role) if they'd like. As of this morning, the black-and-white video that depicts what happens when 20 strangers are paired into 10 couples and asked to kiss for the first time has more than 47 million views on YouTube.
Talk about viral. That means for each original Facebook link recipient, there are more than 2 million views of this video. Even jaded bloggers called the film "beautiful" and "sweet" after watching the pairs awkwardly get ready to lock lips and in some cases engage in some pretty passionate embraces that make you wonder if some off-camera romance might have followed.
But by Tuesday, Slate had scrutinized the credits and called BS on the video in a scathing post, pointing out that the "kissers" were local actors, musicians, models—in other words camera-ready performers who are used to doing such things—and that the film is really just a clothing ad for the L.A.-based fashion brand Wren.
The New York Times reports today that Wren founder and creative director Melissa Coker commissioned the film to represent her fall collection for Style.com's Video Fashion Week, a video showcase for brands that can't afford the high cost of a runway show during Fashion Week. Despite the criticism by some, what Pilieva and Wren have achieved with this cheaply made video has amazed some seasoned fashion observers.
"She gets better attention here than an actual fashion show during Fashion Week," André Leon Talley, the artistic director at Zappos Couture, who used to be Coker’s boss at Vogue told the Times. “You can’t reach 40 million viewers in an 11- to 15-minute fashion runway presentation."
We agree, and with that, here are some takeaways from this ad for other fashion brands:
At the beginning of the video, viewers see "Wren presents" and in the credits, Wren is listed as providing the styling in the credits. Coker told the Times she thought that made things clear, but it might not have been in this case, since the 7-year-old Los Angeles-based label is not a well-known one. Yes, Chipotle got away with just using its logo at the end of that ad that took on Big Agriculture and people loved that video, but many watched that one knowing that it was an ad. With the rise of native advertising, we’re seeing a lot more ads that feel editorial, and this certainly fits with that. Adding a website or logo somewhere in the piece would have worked better and really allowed people to realize what Wren was. It would also help them buy the clothes, which many have apparently done after realizing they could. That's the point of having a fashion label, right?
A Sense Of Improv
I think the reason this piece worked great was the feel of randomness and spontaneity in what happened between each couple. It felt like they didn’t know what to do after being asked to kiss and as a result, the viewer wasn’t sure what would happen either. None of them were paid, and they were either friends of Coker or Pilieva. Other budding brands can easily try something similar with their own circles (and edit accordingly, if spontaneity falls flat.)
Like any good ad, this one plays on emotions, including embarrassment to be watching what feels like a series of intimate moments. "Maybe it's because if two people actually started kissing heavily in public, my reaction would not be to stare—as this video would have us do—but to look away and tweet about it," one Adweek writer observed. Feeling vaguely uncomfortable but compelled to watch anyway is not a bad way to go. Show people something they aren't used to watching in a short film.
The Slate article points out that the kissers are all hip, stylish and attractive. True but now that we know it’s a fashion ad, that makes a sense. How many brands look for poorly wardrobed dorks to sell their dresses and t-shirts? One thing the piece did well was reflect some sexual orientation diversity, with two male and two female "couples" and there was some diversity of age, too, which made the pairings interesting. That said, it did not appear there was much racial diversity and if we were going along with the idea that these were random "strangers" from what looked like an urban setting, that could be improved on.
Prepare For Parody
Now that the video has gone viral, there have been a series of parodies (which frankly, is a sure sign of YouTube success). Among them is one featuring puppies that is called "First Sniff." It’s actually pretty cute, and shouldn't offend anyone. Ultimately, the idea was a really clever one, even if it was a thinly veiled ad. And as we've been told time and time again, millennials—the main audience for a fashion ad like this one—prefer subtlety to traditional advertising, and they trust their friends more than anyone when it comes to brand recommendations. This viral video on YouTube fits both measures, and even if some of those millions of observers feel tricked, the consumers are the ones that matter.