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, 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:
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.
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.
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.