From the screen to the smartphone: Why director Philipp Wolff is now relying on vertical videos

In the interview we speak to a former director who has now specialized in vertical content formats. Editor: What drove you from the big cinema screen to the very small one, i.e. to the smartphone screen?

Philipp Wolff: I actually had a couple of spots on the big screen, but in my role as a director at the time, I shot numerous spots for online alongside TV campaigns. What fascinates me to this day is the direct feedback: Click numbers, likes and comments quickly show what works and what doesn’t. As a director, on the other hand, I rarely found out whether my TV campaigns were really accepted and whether my creative decisions ultimately made a difference in conversion.

Another big reason to switch formats was the experimental and high level of freedom I have seen and still see in the production of online and mobile formats. Since TV campaigns still attract enormous attention on the customer and agency side and every single frame is discussed several times, we as content creators at Truemates enjoy a lot of creative freedom and trust in the conception and production of campaigns for online and social media.

In an amateurish way, what is the biggest difference in creative terms between planning and producing a vertical video?


Basically one can say: the format determines who consumes it and how. While TV spots are watched on the sofa at home, online spots and especially vertical content are consumed while brushing teeth, on the train, in the school yard or during the coffee break. The time is scarcer, the environmental influences are greater and you compete with the video against a lot of other content. So I only have a few seconds to apply to the user with my video. In other words, in the conception I have to create a hook as early as possible in order to attract the user in the first place. In the next step, the conversation must then continue and get the user to really stick with it and rather to react or interact with what he sees.

We never just produce a short video.

Philipp Wolff

In terms of visual design, the vertical format has some advantages, but it also poses challenges. Since the person in front of the camera usually takes a vertical rather than a horizontal position, one is much closer to the person here than the classic 16: 9, or can capture him in full screen. In contrast, with videos in the automotive sector, it is more difficult to find good image sections with the camera that do not crop the car, but also do not get completely lost in the long shot.

How long does it take to produce a short video? Is the workload significantly less than with long spots?

In fact, it almost never happens that we only produce a single short video. When it comes to campaigns, for example, we never think in terms of individual assets, but rather in terms of media kits. These include various formats, lengths, and different edits – individually tailored to the needs of the various platforms. Then there are GIFs, BTS footage, campaign photos, outtake reels, etc. Here we often work with several units on the set. Instead of just one cameraman, we always have three in action.

It is said that the attention span is getting shorter and shorter and that a brand has to be convincing within the first few seconds. Can you clear up a prejudice here or do you really only have two or three seconds?


If it’s two or three seconds at all! I am not sure, however, that this can only be reduced to the attention span. This is always said of Gen Z, but it doesn’t quite do it justice. I think that the younger generation in particular is exposed to an ever-increasing flood of content every day. In order to filter which content might interest you and which isn’t, a decision is simply made incredibly quickly. Here you need the famous thumb-stopper, which delays this moment of decision further and, in the best case, causes the viewer to watch the entire video.

How do brands manage to get their advertising message across in ever shorter clips? How can I do storytelling in a few seconds?

Here you have to break away from the idea of ​​classic storytelling. Short clips are often just a moment with a longer story behind it. It may be that this story will be shown to me in a second touchpoint. These days, a brand’s advertising message is no longer conveyed in a single clip. In the past, brands ran huge campaigns at large intervals. This certainly still applies to some brands, but in most cases today as a brand you come into contact with people every day with various content assets and thus create a long-term image for the consumer.

Do you see a problem with the quality of the clips in the shorter clip length?

I don’t think that the quality and length of the spots are directly related to each other. For me, quality doesn’t just mean shooting on a good camera or having a great location. Quality is shown in a good creation, in a good selection of influencers or personalities who fit my brand and, in the final step, of course, in a good implementation.

What is your advice to companies on a tight budget? What are the key factors in producing a successful commercial?

For me, quality doesn’t just mean shooting with a good camera.

Philipp Wolff

The most important thing is certainly that everyone involved in the production has a good understanding of the brand. The budget is ultimately based on what the customer intends to do. A good idea doesn’t necessarily cost a lot of money to implement, but having an appropriate budget definitely creates greater leeway and more possibilities. In the end, through a transparent evaluation of the data, you can also see exactly where and how the respective clip was received by the target group and then build on it with the next content if the performance is good.

Which social media platform do you see right at the front in the video sector?

If you are looking for quick entertainment, snackable content, what excites me quickly, then it is without a doubt TikTok. For the longer videos, show formats, and sometimes TV content, I go to YouTube. In addition to gaming, you can also find exciting video content on Twitch – then live.

Which formats work best?

TikTok is the MTV of modern times.

Philipp Wolff

That depends a lot on the platform. On TikTok, which is definitely the take-off platform this year, the content is often of a playful nature or at least has playful elements. Above all, the content on TikTok is strongly influenced by trends. A creative, cool or funny video idea goes viral and thousands of users immediately make their own interpretation of the video. But topics such as self empowerment or educational formats with a wide variety of content also work on TikTok, as the #lernenmittiktok campaign shows, for example.

Do you think that reels and shorts could soon become as relevant as TikTok?

It’s no surprise that established platforms are trying to adapt the capabilities and trends of new platforms. In the case of Instagram Stories, for example, it worked phenomenally at the time, even though the principle wasn’t new either. Now TikTok already has quite a big lead over the competition worldwide. On the one hand, this is about an insane amount of video content that TikTok already has on its own platform. There’s also the inimitable TikTok algorithm that’s as famous as it is puzzling, even for successful creators. But above all, TikTok has become an insanely strong brand and much more than just an app. TikTok is a mouthpiece for a whole generation, a stage for creativity. TikTok is the MTV of modern times.

What is your advice to brands that want to advertise themselves on TikTok? How do you plan to work with influencers?

It’s a very exciting topic. I recently gave a short lecture on this at DMEXCO: “How to take your brand viral on TikTok”. There is a lot of concrete advice from the point of view of social content production and from the point of view of a creator that we can give brands to hand. The most important points from my point of view are:

  1. Take an experienced partner to your side who will accompany you on this path.
  2. Let your personality flow into your channel.
  3. Works with TikTok Creatorn.
  4. Be close to trends.
  5. Don’t take yourself too seriously as a brand.
  6. Do it now!

The last point is basically the most important. At the moment, as a new creator on the platform, you have the chance to go viral with your content and build reach, which is almost impossible these days on long-established platforms. What is also important: the cooperation with influencers takes place on an equal footing. We cooperate with influencers not only in front of the camera, but also behind the camera. We involve them in creation processes, whether for brand cooperations or for our own DailyPie format.

Thank you for the interview!

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