The high-profile advertisements shown within marquee-televised events such as the Super Bowl, the World Cup, Oscars, and this year’s impending Olympic Games have become almost as notorious as the events themselves. Some of the on-air commercial spots attract more than 90 million viewers and command price tags that run into millions of dollars. As audiences have grown, so has the trend toward more and more spectacular and innovative commercials.
These days, given the quality and use of high-end visual effects (VFX) employed in commercials, viewers could easily be left feeling as if they were watching film trailers as opposed to product advertisements.
Notable ads that premiered at the 2012 Super Bowl included Chevrolet’s ‘2012 End of the World’ featuring science fiction-like ‘doomsday’ effects, and Audi's ‘Vampire Party’ with its Twilight-esque theme. Both these spots employed high-end VFX to transport the viewer into a fantastical world, creating the kind of immersive experience normally reserved for blockbuster movies.
At a fraction of the price, but with a more targeted audience demographic, this year’s Oscar® coverage also saw big brands employing VFX to catch viewers' attention. Procter & Gamble wowed us with its TIDE ‘Pop-A-Lot’ spot, and Hyundai pushed the boundaries with its Wes Anderson-directed Hyundai ‘Talk to my Car.’
While these unique mass audience events go hand in hand with a high advertising spend, the use of cutting-edge VFX in commercials is not reserved exclusively for big-ticket events. The advertising industry is increasingly employing VFX across the board and acknowledging the importance of commercials that use effects to access new levels of creativity.
The history of VFX in ads
If we quickly trace the trajectory of the television ad, it is evident that developments in VFX have been instrumental in the evolution of creative concepts. In the last ten years, technology has advanced at a rapid pace, making what once was impossible possible with the use of VFX. In the place of time-consuming and expensive ‘special effects,’ the industry has increasingly used digital visual effects in post-production.
As the technology has improved and the price of entry has reduced, there has also been a move away from using VFX purely for impact. No longer is VFX used solely about the big climax moments, explosions, or stunts. Nowadays, facilities employ visual effects in a wide range of situations, helping to add detail to environments, re-create period features, and generally help to tell a story using more subtle or ‘invisible’ VFX. This shift has been made possible as technology has advanced to reach the point where VFX techniques can present a photo-realistic look.
For example, one of the most notable VFX commercials of the 1990s was the Guinness ‘We have all the time in the world’ spot that was completed using a mix of practical effects and digital design. While groundbreaking in its day, this advertisement could now be done at a fraction of the cost and in less time.
The future’s bright thanks to VFX
The increased use of visual effects has made the realization of advertising ideas possible that previously were not -- which has allowed brands and agencies to be incredibly ambitious with their advertising. This growth has been driven by improvements in technology, which have made post-production houses far better equipped and able to offer more for less.
Despite VFX in commercials traditionally trailing VFX in films, commercials have been -- and will continue to be -- a playground for budding VFX producers and directors because of the creative scope afforded. While they only have between 30 and 60 seconds to tell their story and make a memorable impact, this often affords directors the opportunity to be more daring with ideas and innovative with the methods they employ.
In the now highly competitive space of post-production and VFX, being able to bring the creative visions of both brands and advertising agencies to life remains hugely important. However, in this changed landscape, it is those who are able to provide the tools and talent at affordable rates that have the edge in this exciting industry.