In this golden age of micromedia, megabrands are increasingly going after lo-fi-looking clips likely to go viral. The more contagious, the better. Consider Doritos’ Superbowl commercials (think Pug Attack, Free Doritos, et. al.). Frito-Lay has even turned to crowdsourcing to find the next campaign with social-media-friend Old-Spice-guy, appeal.
Enter MOFILM, a pioneer in made-for-mobile video advertising that relies on crowdsourcing for content. With over 25 years in the global marketing business at Nabisco and Kellogg, MOFILM founder and CEO Jeffrey Merrihue says that while the need for brands to tell compelling stories has remained constant, "MOFILM couldn’t have existed five years ago because high definition filming cost too much."
He estimates the cost for equipment and production has come down from about $100,000 to $10,000 in the past decade, and he estimates there are about 1.5 million people across the globe equipped to make high quality videos. "We received 12,000 films in the last year. That is a small subset of the total that could make films," he tells Fast Company.
So how to cut through the crap and find great creative content custom-made for mobile phones?
"Crowdsourcing does have a medium-sized history of exploitation of creative and poor quality," Merrihue admits. So, like Frito-Lay’s "Crash the Superbowl" contests in which finalists can walk away $25,000 richer, competitions are MOFILM’s secret sauce and the reason for its rapid rise.
Since 2009, the company has partnered with dozens of film festivals, built a community of over 30,000 filmmakers, counts a slew of brands such as Pepsi and Chevrolet as clients, and licenses with 38 mobile network operators in 23 countries. Not bad for a business that Merrihue began with one experimental contest at Cannes while he was still employed as CEO of Accenture’s Marketing Sciences group.
But cash prizes and trips to Cannes or Barcelona are just part of the reward, he notes. Aspiring filmmakers get recognition at international film festivals and exposure, not only to billion-dollar brands, but also to the likes of Kevin Spacey, Isabella Rossellini, and Spike Lee, as well as MOFILM advisory board executive Jon Landau, producer of the two top-grossing movies of all time, Titanic and Avatar.
[Photo - Chairman of MOFILM’s advisory board, Oscar-winning movie producer Jon Landau, cruising in a classic Chevrolet for the CANNES Super Bowl contest spot on Route 66]
"It’s a testament to the quality of the films that media properties such as the Hindustan Times (founded by Mahatma Gandhi, current readership 3.34 million) outsource all ads to MOFILM," he says. And MOFILM’s contests are a proven fast track to coveted jobs. "Look at the profiles of filmmakers on our home page. We have a long list of people who were aspiring and converted [those aspirations] into a career. We are the first agency in history trying to get rid of the best talent. We want them to be rich and famous and then make room for others to continue the virtuous cycle," Merrihue adds.
Fresh from Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, Merrihue recognizes the limitations even in a vast pool of available videos. "Bandwidth isn’t there for everyone on the planet to process the volume of video that is available," he says.
"All brands are very conscious of mobile both as filming and viewing platform but the reality is that the vast majority of film is shot on HD and viewed on PCs and tablets, simply because you need an expensive phone and data plan," Merrihue adds.
Yet while the infrastructure isn't there quite yet and the death of traditional agencies is a long way off, Merrihue is confident that MOFILM is riding the crest of a wave as a cost-effective tool for big brands and causes to create messaging that can be distributed on social networks.
"Pricing plans are changing and people want it. We are on the verge of a mobile video revolution. Photos have already taken off. This same conversation is going to be more interesting in 18 months."