Advertising Meets Realism: Why ‘Documercials’ Can Be So Successful

‘Documercials’ are a film format that was developed in the USA in the mid-1980s and is growing in popularity in Europe as well. The protagonists in ‘documercials’ are ordinary people – someone like you and me. Instead of flawless models or actors we see people who have wrinkles and sometimes pimples. They struggle with real worries and problems. They achieve goals that we can achieve as well. The mix of advertising and documentary doesn’t use any fairy-tale-scenarios, but focuses on real life. This authentic performance reflects onto the company / organisation / brand / product. The reference to something real creates a “I know that” – or “That’s how I feel as well” moment. This is refreshing, devastating, moving – and believable. And that’s why well-made ‘documercials’ are very successful. However, what seems to happen randomly and feels authentic, is often well cast and precisely planned. The boundaries between genuine documentary and staged content are blurred. The reality is created by the issues that companies and organisations prescribe.

#FuckThePoor: Film production about a social experiment organised by “The Pilion Trust”, an aid organisation that fights homelessness in the UK.
The organisation’s YouTube clip has been clicked nearly 5 million times. (Source: unit9.com, YouTube)

‘Documercials’: Not Only Suitable For Non-Profit Organisations
While the format is an obvious choice for social organisations (NGOs …), corporations often overlook the format. In contrast to a commercial or an image film, the focus is not on marketing messages, but on situations or circumstances that need to be changed. The company appears more like an intermediary. But precisely this reserved, emotional appearance holds the power. That’s why the format is not only suitable for companies whose prime aim is to stop environmental pollution or save endangered animal species.

“Can and Will”: A Short-Film-Series By Land Rover UK.
This campaign is supposed to celebrate the “go anywhere” attitude of the brand. Individual episodes portray people who, despite having experienced tragic setbacks in their life, are resolute, ambitious and brave and continue to pursue their goals in life; Personalities who move out of their comfort zone, who dare taking a different and new perspective in their lives. These are all qualities that Land Rover wants to convey with its own brand message as well, showcasing them in a novel, unusual way. (Source: adweek.com)

‘Documercials’ Work Globally
Real life does not have to be measured by a country’s parameters such as current fashion trends. That is why, once produced, ‘documercials’ can be used successfully even across borders. As long as they make us believe that it could all be true …