News & Views

Content Strategy / Lessons from a three-year-old in a living room lava pit


Ever see something and think ‘wow if only a brand had done that’? Contagious Insider content and strategy director 
Will Sansom picks his favourite footage from the last month and asks what it can teach us about the creation of shareable content.

If we had a pound for every time Contagious Insider has been asked by clients in the last six months about content strategy, we’d have enough money to purchase at least three virtual reality head-mounted display manufacturers. Or thereabouts.

The great debate around what constitutes ‘great content’ seems to be raging on as strong as ever: short form vs long-form, brand-curated vs brand-edited, storytelling vs storydoing, etc. And yet while marketers busy themselves with these existential head-scratchers, the rest of the world is merrily skipping along doing awesome stuff without their help.

Case in point. I am sure many of you have seen the recent videos created by Dreamworks post-production whizz Daniel Hashimoto starring his three-year-old son, James. If not then you can watch a compilation above, but in a nutshell, he takes ten-second phone camera clips of James doing innocently predictable toddler-type stuff and adds Hollywood-standard special effects to bring his imagination to life – with explosive and death-defying results. I won’t spoil the surprise for all three of you who haven’t seen them, but needless to say that they are brilliant, surprising and funny.

What impressed me most about James’ videos, however, wasn’t just the fact that my first reaction after watching them was to simply watch them all over again. And it wasn’t even the fact that my second reaction was to share them eagerly with my significant other. No, what impressed me is that I discovered them through a Facebook status update by a new mum. Not someone who works in advertising. She wasn’t looking to boost her own personal brand equity or gain early adopter points from industry chums. She was just sharing something she’d watched, loved and wanted other people to experience. And that – in my eyes – is the sign of truly great content.

The next thing that grabbed me though (and rest assured that said-significant other had stopped listening by this point) was that this should have been done by a brand. Just imagine – toddler or mum-oriented brand X invites users to submit short videos (maybe through Vine) and then each week a handful are picked and shipped off to a handy production company. They work their Daniel Hashimoto-esque magic on them before handing back this newly-alchemised viral gold to the brand which then shares them across all its social and content platforms as well as giving them back to the doting parents who also share the crap out of them. Hell, you could even use those that gain the most traction online in a series of TV ads.

And yet a brand didn’t make them. Darn shame if you ask me. There could, however, be some interesting lessons that we can extrapolate from Daniel and James’ videos nonetheless:

1) Short-form content suits the movement of moments

We’ve all talked about diminishing engagement times and consumption habits shifting to suit short-form content… and yet still the idea of creating a genuinely engaging video that lasts ten seconds or less remains a devilishly tricky prospect for many marketers. Hashimoto’s videos prove that bite-sized can work very well, but why? Simply because each one zooms in on a specific moment – the kind that your average toddler creates hundreds of times a day and yet the majority of which go unnoticed – and brings it to life in a delightful way.

The majority of spontaneous posts that people make to social networks are actually done in an attempt to encapsulate and share specific moments – be it the frustration of being excreted on by a bird on your way to a job interview or the lolz comment made by your bestie in the pub. The social content movement is, therefore, in many ways a movement of moments and the proliferation of short-form video platforms provides brands with the perfect tools to leverage this.

2) Human emotion triggers human emotion

This might sound obvious, but it’s easy to watch Daniel’s videos and presume that the special effects are the best part, when actually they’re not. Take the one in which James blows a coffee table to smithereens with a LEGO blaster pistol. The payoff isn’t in seeing Ikea furniture atomised – it’s in him turning to the camera at the end and with a huge grin on his face, saying ‘It’s kind of like a real gun’.

Same goes for the one in which Dad tells him that a water hose gun isn’t connected, only for James to give him a thorough soaking nonetheless. The joy isn’t in seeing the soaking – it’s in Dad’s perfectly timed ‘Fair enough’ just before the clip cuts. 

What this tells us is that a special effect – technology if you will – is best used to throw into relief something fundamentally and satisfyingly human. It’s this that triggers the emotive response in the audience and it should never get lost under layers of post-production wizardry or supposed polish and sophistication.

3) Reality resonates

Daniel’s big idea – that it would be amazing to see a three-year-old’s play fantasies brought to life – is not original. Indeed many advertisers have hit on this same insight about the power of a child’s imagination and produced ads telling stories that bring this to life. Any yet because Daniel’s videos use real footage of a real subject, the surprise and delight of the contrasting special effects lunacy is so much more impactful. It’s also why I think that a brand could enjoy tremendous success by running a collaborative content campaign that invited real people to contribute their own videos.

If that Facebook friend of mine was engaged enough by seeing real footage of someone else’s kid transformed in this way, imagine how she’d react if it was her own? It would illicit an emotional response that no ad – no matter how well scripted and lavishly produced – could get close to.