If you dropped by BuzzFeed Motion Pictures' old office in Hollywood on the afternoon of November 18, you may have thought the publisher's video arm was shooting a car commercial. Technically, that's exactly what was going on.
On an empty lot outside the office, a silver Hyundai Tucson sat idling in front of some palm trees, its headlights running and tires turned at just the right angle. The setting sun added that amber filter that makes a shot look like someone poured ginger ale all over the lens. It looked like the shot at the end of a standard car commercial, the part right before the brand's logo and leasing details overtake the picture.
Even the conversation around the car typified a regular commercial shoot. BuzzFeed Motion Pictures Creative Producer -- and the shoot's director -- Jesse Burton huddled with Woojong Kim, Hyundai's senior manager of advertising collateral. The pair were discussing camera angles.
It would have been a perfectly fine commercial. Except it wasn't necessarily a commercial. For starters, instead of the Hyundai logo and leasing details entering the frame, it was a father carrying his daughter on piggyback. The father-daughter duo weren't professional actors, and the scene being filmed wasn't the hero shot of a 30-second spot; it was a transitional sequence for one of the minutes-long video's storylines. The video (below) also won't air on TV; it was posted on Dec. 21 to BuzzFeed's YouTube and Facebook channels, the fourth in the campaign's series.
"One of the sins in automotive is we've spent too much time on TV trying to sell and not enough time storytelling," said Hyundai CMO Dean Evans, who declined to say how much money Hyundai spent on the campaign. Since joining the auto brand in August 2015, Mr. Evans's marketing strategy has been to "build a nice, stronger, more well-loved brand while we sell more cars in the background," he said.
Selling through storytelling is tough. But it's easier if you know the story you want to tell. "The goal really is you want people to share. You want people to relate and identify with that message and ultimately the brand is the facilitator of that," said BuzzFeed's Senior VP of West Coast Sales Jennifer Klawin.
For Hyundai, that story was how people can recoup quality time with one another while they're in a car. "Our creative platform was called 'provoke change,'" said James Zayti, group media director at Hyundai's agency Innocean. "And we felt the Tucson can be a catalyst to provoking change. Really we looked at it [as] can the Tucson help people disconnect for a while and engage in other things, other things being more on the lo-fi side?"
The next question is how to tell that story. BuzzFeed has produced 10 videos for auto brands this year, according to Ms. Klawin, so its branded-video team had experience coming up with answers. But it took a different approach for Hyundai's campaign. Instead of a one-off video, BuzzFeed and Hyundai opted for a series of four. They would try out three different approaches in three separate videos, then regroup to assess what resonated with the brand's target audience of millennials and apply that insight in making the fourth video.
In mid-October, members of BuzzFeed's branded video team, Hyundai's agencies Innocean and Initiative, and Mr. Kim convened at BuzzFeed's Hollywood office to review the campaign's first three videos, which were released in late September, and figure out what to do for the fourth and final one.