Advertising w/ Aaron Olsen

Advertising, meet Aaron.

The anatomy of happiness

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Advertising, when used to tell a brand’s story, can do the same thing fantasy novels, chick flicks, and our imaginations can do. They can fulfill, ever so slightly, our dreams, our ‘happily ever afters.’

Engen and Wimpy - Love Song

Engen, a service station company, and Wimpy, a fast-food franchise, have teamed up in this latest ad to tickle our fancy and make us laugh. The happiness this spot gives us is tied to the satisfaction given to the characters. When we see fulfillment or happiness in fiction writing, for some reason that idea lightens our mood as well. It is especially potent if the character has experienced trouble or hardship – or has put his ego on the line, as this young man did. We begin rooting for them, as if we ourselves were experiencing the same thing. It is something about the human condition, where we crave heroes and desire to see others succeed.

Next week we’ll dive deeper into happiness and humor, including the post “What makes a spot funny? (Part II).” For now, enjoy a little fun and a smile with this warm spot:

Written by aaronjolsen

April 4, 2013 at 4:51 pm

What makes a spot funny? (Part I)

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Last time we spotlighted a Pantech ad, it was Aunt Jessica who was making things awkward. Now it’s an errant text to a girlfriend’s mother during dinner.

Pantech Discover_Dinner with Parents

I’ve been trying to pin down, in my head, what exactly makes a spot funny. Humor is an elusive concept – what one person finds hilarious, another will find crass, dull, or dumb.

One attribute many funny commercials seem to posses is the element of surprise. The events that trigger laughter are unexpected and out of place. I am reminded of several good spots – Old Spice’s The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, Volkswagen’s baseball and Darth Vader commercials, and Ad Age’s number two funniest spot of the 2012, Le Trefle’s toilet paper spot. Each has a turn of events, a twist, a sudden spike in irony. I can’t be certain if this is necessary for a commercial to be funny. But I can assume that it can’t hurt.

More on exploring what makes a commercial funny throughout the week. Please comment if you have any insight on this! For now, here’s the Pantech Discover spot:

How to feature a feature

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Features are what make you stand out. Even slight differences in facial features are enough for us to distinguish strangers from buddies, potential mates from ‘just friends,’ and family from the rest of humankind. BMW – ever the purveyor of elegant and stunning features – has packaged two new ones in these spots quite nicely.

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What exactly is a feature? According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary: “the structure, form, or appearance… a prominent part or characteristic… something offered to the public or advertised as particularly attractive.” I would add, also, that a feature is a particular function of a brand, product, or service that can benefit the user or client. It is a piece or part of something that has some sort of intrinsic utilitarian or aesthetic value.

Features differentiate, provide a unique selling proposition, position your product, etc. Whatever you want to call it, the unique combination of features of your product, service, or company aggregate to create your ‘brand aura.’ By accentuating the quiet ride of the Rolls-Royce, David Ogilvy created a luxurious, fancy ‘feeling’ around the vehicle. By accenting features, you can add several brushstrokes to your brand or company’s image. Not only does it make you unique in the marketplace – a good feature makes you desirable.

Caution must guide us when writing copy about features, however. I am reminded of incomprehensible, geek-speak technology and gadget ads that list mountains of specs at the almost entire exclusion of everything else. While this may be appropriate for a particular target audience, it may not help the brand as a whole. This kind of feature display is more like direct selling. It’s devoid of feeling. Consumers make many, many decisions on emotional grounds, even when they say they don’t. It’s easy to get lost – and to get the potential buyer lost – in the weeds of data if we’re not careful.

That’s why I show these two BMW ads. They are creative, clever, and make the feature present and useful in a car buyer’s mind. It makes you feel intimate with the car – like your car is talking to you or your mechanic on the telephone. This kind of emotional connection with an automobile is rarely emphasized in the industry’s commercials currently. That’s why I think these are brilliant, and that they will work as intended.

Brand storytelling is about finding understanding

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The name for this ad by Expedia, “find your understanding,” sums up the purpose and power of storytelling perfectly. It’s meant to describe the journey of the father in the video, but inadvertently it gives us a window into the inner cogs and gears present in every good story.

Expedia Find Your Understanding

I talked a little bit about making emotional connections with characters yesterday. It seems when a character is portrayed well, we put ourselves in their shoes and almost become them. Their triumphs are ours, and the emotions they feel swell inside us, too. When characters are realistic, the story resonates and becomes personal to us. We like to find patterns, commonalities, and affinities as humans. It’s called confirmation bias. We filter out those things that are different from our worldview and seek for those that are the same.

So how do you make believable characters? Use simple emotions in the story or ad that appeal to a wide range of people. Security system ads that play to our fears and spots that connect sugary drinks to happiness are cliques for a reason. We all feel insecure at one point or another, and we all desire happiness. In fact, I would go so far as to say that those that feel they need security the most are those that buy security systems the most. If a character is clearly feeling what we have felt, we are more likely to relate to them – and by extension, translate the product’s alleged satisfaction of those needs into a desire for acquiring said product.

This brings up a bit of a philosophical question. Do ads connect with people who are already feeling that emotion, who are already part of our target audience? Or do they create that emotion within us, transforming people into prime consumers?

It doesn’t matter if the story is true, like a testimonial, or a fictional metaphor – if the story is good, the emotion is common and deep enough and the character feels real, the answer is yes to both.

One of Ad Age’s funniest ads of the year is about … toilet paper?

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Ad Age asked their readers what they thought were the funniest viral ads of the year. This ad from Le Trefle, a french toiletries company, came within just 1% from being named the winner, garnering about 32% of the vote. (You can try the link here for the article. Sadly, I have yet to subscribe, so I could only view it once.)

Le Trefle Toilet Paper

The spot, titled simply “Emma,” shows a husband trying to save paper by using his tablet for everything, from reading books to taking notes. He shows his disappointment in his wife’s paper use with just the one-word complaint, “Emma!” The tables are turned at the end in a hilarious reversal of fortunes.

As we have been discussing recently, conflict and tension are the heart of humor in ads. Being at odds with his wife and desiring a paperless homes sets him up to get a large dose of his own medicine where paper is essential – on the toilet seat. The battle between the two (even though the wife fights silently) gives us a reason to continue watching. We crave resolution.

What makes this more funny than most is the “vengeance factor” and the sudden shift in power. There’s something inherently funny about the top dog receiving the karma he’s dished out for so long. And when the ‘victim’ or subject of the dishing is the cause of the downfall, we gloat with her as if we were in her shoes.

I can’t quite place my finger on it, but something about being able to relate to a character makes their triumphs our triumphs, and their smugness ours.

Enjoy this spectacular 40 second story. More to come on storytelling, emotional connections with characters, and bridging that to a brand strategy tomorrow.

A perfect ad, even if it is in Portugese

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This is the kind of stuff that makes advertising one of the best industries to work for.

Dove Men + Care

Dove has a new spot out for their Men + Care line in Brazil. The ad shows how a man would feel after using Men + Care shampoo. The voiceover tagline at the end (translated by Google Translate) states: “Female Shampoo was not made for you. Dove Men + Care was.”

As we discussed earlier this week, the ad uses a brilliant tension technique. The dissonance between the feminine behavior of the main character and the fact that he’s a man keeps us locked into the spot. It keeps us interested because we so desperately want the tension to go away. So we laugh it off, or try to find meaning in it by connecting the ad to our life experience. “This is just like something Kyle would do,” or “I think Phillip would appreciate this.” (True story: this actually happened on my Facebook feed, with this very ad.)

It’s brilliant because it’s funny, and it’s funny because it’s dissonant in our minds. This is part of the very definition of sensational: “arousing or tending to arouse (as by lurid details) a quick, intense, and usually superficial interest, curiosity, or emotional reaction.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) That dissonance, those “lurid details,” give us an emotional jolt. We laugh to let it out of our system and process it.

And as Douglas Van Praet wrote this week on the blog Co.CREATE, it’s a widely held myth that logical appeals work better than emotional ones. We’re emotional creatures. Our instinctual selves are based in emotion. It takes effort and difficult cognitive maintenance to always think logically. Our default is emotion.

So when an ad gets us to feel something as powerfully as this one, it is a success. It’s like the cigarette commercials of the early to mid 20th century. We all knew that grandma and mom got yellow teeth when they smoked. But the advertisers tapped into our emotions. Visions of a thin body, a popular reputation, and a rugged, cowboy masculinity masked the logical conclusion that perhaps all that wheezing was somehow related to sucking smoke into our lungs.

So when a brand of shampoo makes us feel chic, or pampered, or attractive – even if it’s aimed at men – I’m inclined to think it will sell well.

Creative solution to DVRs, or total flop?

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Just a few days ago, Volkswagen came out with this ad to combat fast-forwarding through television commercial breaks. They call it a ‘slowmercial’:

Creative Review of the UK says that “whether the ‘new format’ will catch on is debatable” but that more ads like this “would certainly make for a more zen viewing experience.”

I agree that from a tactical standpoint, the format might not work as well. For starters, it will cost three times as much with the extra minute added in there. The spot plays with less actual ‘bang’ because of its static, print-ad quality. And some DVR systems skip 30 seconds at a time, nullifying the fast-forward effect.

From a creative standpoint, however, I’m torn. I love it when companies and ad agencies are straight with people. The ad comes right out and says they’re trying this technique to be more effective and to reach more people. Instead of disguising their intentions, they flaunt them.

This, in theory, is a good idea. Everyone knows an advertiser is trying to sell you something. When advertisements try to hide that fact, consumers get suspicious and tune out. Or, they are miffed at the company’s apparent lack of transparency. Logically following that conclusion, being upfront with people is safer.

Or is it?

In fiction writing, an important element is the ‘suspension of disbelief.’ In order for us to accept wizards and dragons, or spaceships and laser guns, the reader has to suspend their doubts about how that could actually work. There must be ‘buy-in’ from the audience. Good writers make that work by having detailed explanations, logically sound rules, or a good explanation of why the unexplainable can’t be explained. They keep the mental image intact and insulated from skepticism.

When authors fail to do this, the world breaks apart, and the story seems forced. Miraculous rescues by near-godly beings is one example of an overused trope that whips us back into reality and sours the fictional realm. We want to believe that it could actually happen, somewhere, but the deus ex machina kills the moment – and with it, the entire fictional world.

Back to this spot. It could go one of two ways. The copy and voiceover could be seen as honest and fair, and the audience (in this case, Belgians) is grateful for the breath of fresh air. Or, the copy and voiceover come off as clumsy, sucking us out of the world where sun, white beaches, and the magic of a convertible Beetle mesmerize us and take us away into the soft sunset of our imaginations – of the luxurious life we would rather live in than our own, mundane existence.

Volkswagen Beetle Slowmercial


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