This Is How You Sell Products Now: Low-Budget, Heartbreaking Stories

Field Notes creates a spot for their notebooks that breaks your heart. Are you paying attention, big agencies?

I recently interviewed the founder of a new production company that specializes in video storytelling for small brands, rather than traditional advertising. Coudal Partners has been making these kinds of films to promote its own in-house brands for a while now, and their slam-dunk effectiveness is heartbreakingly apparent in their latest piece, Red Blooded. Yes, they made it to spread the word about their new line of Field Notes notebooks—but if it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, you’re a damn robot.

This is how you sell products now. This film probably cost a tiny fraction of what a standard TV commercial costs, but it’s about 10,000 times more effective. Why? The story, stupid. It’s real, it’s unique, it’s true—and it’s creatively designed with a human touch. "Product placement" always feels irritating because the product being placed is somehow supposed to fly under our radar, but never does. This is the total opposite: The story unapologetically features the product, but it’s in such an organic way—making adorable little projects like Red Blooded's love-letter pop-up book is exactly what someone in the real world would actually do with a Field Notes notebook—that not only do we not object, we feel genuinely moved and inspired by it.

The line between "content" and "advertising" is so smudged at this point that analyzing the taxonomy is almost a useless exercise. Do you even care, when tweeting or Facebooking a piece of media that you like, whether it was paid for by a corporation or was made by some guy in his basement? I know I don’t. All I care about is whether it’s good—whether it connects. And films (Or ads? Or sponsored content?) like Red Blooded are very, very, very good.

[Read more about Red Blooded.]

Add New Comment


  • markusfei

    I´ve just commented it on the Super Bowl article: you have to have and tell a story - not a big budget. Bravo!

  • Yolanda Huang

    On a certain level, the story did make me look into the product. It evoked my interest and that's the intent and purpose of an ad.

  • lonni tanner

    From seechangenyc: Well, at least I know I'm not a damn robot. I wish I were Tracey. And yes, whether I like it or not, a seed was has been planted. Everytime I see red, I'll think of Field Notes (though I've been buying the red Moleskin forever. Please forgive me Moleskin. I will think of you when I see black.)

  • moebius

    I love field notes, but I honestly did not feel much on a emotional level watching this film. The messages to Tracie (and the stories they imply) felt trite and generic, and therefore neither personal nor meaningful. Mostly I found myself thinking about how nice the paper cutouts look.

  • Beheld

    Sorry but what makes this product better then your competition? The video? I never heard of your Brand and I'll buy my Moleskine every time.

    The advert lacks authenticity.. if the guy actually made the video for her using your product and put it on youtube, this would be a different story.

  • Jody C


    This is totally awesome! I bet Tracie loved it! I loved the picture of the kids also. 

  • Damn Robot

    i literally laughed out loud at the end, when they show the page that says "i didn't just make this to sell note books" immediately followed by "available now!". come on guys, you need to make the sales pitch a bit more subtle next time! the whole thing kinda falls flat when you have the realization "oooh, that are selling me a stupid note book"

  • Bryan

    You laughed because it was a joke, carefully written to break the emotional tension and keep the video both honest and funny without making potential customers feel cheated. (Yes, telling them they were cheated is an entirely valid way of not cheating them) Without that, it's not an honest advertisement for our product, it would be just another lame 'viral video' that you see ad agencies patting themselves on the back about in AdWeek.

    Luckily for me, Tracie is real, not a fictional character invented to sell notebooks. She didn't know about the ad until the night before it ran and, luckily for me, she loved it.

  • kriscruser

    It's the detail and the intimacy - it isn't often that you want to watch an advertisement multiple times!

  • Railingk

    Let's be specific here, John. "This is how you sell products now" to Wes Anderson fans and timid indie people.

    Not sure you can sell a housewife some Drano with this kind of film, or sell an HVAC tech a new pickup truck.

  • Bryan

    I agree wholeheartedly, and (as if I needed to tell you) I'm a big Wes Anderson fan and that's a hilarious comment.

    But that doesn't mean that GMC or Drano can't make compelling and relevant content on very little budget. The key is being honest, having fun, and trusting the creative team. The format/medium isn't the roadblock, the roadblock to creating good heartfelt engaging content is focus groups, middle management, and stuff like that. If you're not pleasing yourself with your work, how can you convince others that it's great?

  • Terrence Sutherland

    they're selling field notes via viral video, "word of mouth" if i am not mistaken... so yes, their market will be penetrated, the odd non-market viewer may see it, i would like to call that overflow... and overflow when talking market penetration is a good thing i think