Wednesday, February 27, 2013

You're doing it wrong. So very, very wrong.

Have you ever noticed how much commercials suck? And i don't just mean in the "Hey, that was a dramatic moment in my TV show, and now i have to wait for SO LONG while women in leggings talk about yogurt!" kind of way. I mean in the "This advertisement tells me nothing useful about your product/service/company/etc, and in no way makes me want to be in any kind of business with you" way. The premise of a commercial is simple: bring attention to a problem or situation ("Losing weight is hard! Sometimes you want new floors in your house!") and provide a solution ("Use this workout video! Our flooring is cheap and we will install it quickly!"). But anymore, i get the feeling that the people making commercials see themselves as misunderstood artists whose short films never made it to Sundance, and this is their chance to prove everyone wrong. They want to make a funny, compelling, creative film that somehow mentions a specific product/service/brand/etc., apparently believing that you will be so moved and impressed and entertained by their creation that you will want to do business with the company simply because they are associated with art.

There are two problems with this approach: first, regardless of how creative your company is (or how creative the ad agency your company hired is), i want to know that you can provide what i need. Is your insurance cheap and will it give me the coverage i need? Great. What's next? Are your couches attractive and durable and if i buy one will you carry it up two flights of stairs and into my living room? No? Too bad.  Remember "Head On"? That commercial was the most obnoxious thing ever, and it was certainly not high art, but it got the message across: this is some kind of headache product that you apply directly to the forehead. No one who ever saw that commercial will ever forget the product name or how to use it. And lots of people looked it up later, which gave their website lots of traffic and got lots of people interested in and talking about their product. I've seen lots of commercials that were artistically interesting in some way, but when they were over i couldn't remember the name of the company or product. If your commercial doesn't remind people of your product or brand, it's not working.

The second problem is that a lot of commercials are not as creative or interesting as the creators thought they were.

A good example of both of these problems is the new VW Beetle convertible commercial. If you haven't seen it or if that link is broken, here's a synopsis: a guy in a black ski mask goes into a convenience store. Everyone is super nervous as he browses. He then very calmly pays for his purchases and goes back to the car, where his two buddies (also in ski masks) are waiting. It's cold out and they have the top of the convertible down. One of them says, "You know you forgot to take your mask off, right?" The guy realizes that this must be why everyone in the store was so nervous, and then they leave with some bullshit voiceover about how the car is so great you'll never want to put the top up.

Here's the message of that commercial: if you buy our car, people might accidentally think you are a criminal. But you won't care, because it's fun to drive. Somehow. They don't show it being fun to drive. They don't show the guys freezing cold but still having a blast. They show everyone in the convenience store being scared of the guy in the mask. Who thought that this would make people want to buy their car?

Here's how i picture it happening: a bunch of ad executives are sitting around a conference table, brainstorming. Sue says, "What if driving this car with the top down is so much fun that you don't want to stop, even if the weather is bad? Like if it's cold or raining or something?"
The boss, Rick, says, "Yes! How do we convey that?"
"Um, maybe they're driving along, there's snow on the ground or whatever, and they're all wearing winter clothing? Like, they're all bundled up?" Sue ventures.
"I like this," Rick says. "Let's keep it going. Start throwing out clothing options, everyone. What's a good visual?"
Everyone around the table starts suggesting items of winter clothing. Tess half-jokingly calls out, "Ski mask!" Everyone laughs.
Rick says, "You know what would be funny? If they were wearing ski masks, and one of them went into a store or something and forgot he was wearing it, and they thought he was going to rob the store!" Everyone laughs halfheartedly; he's the boss, after all, and they don't want to tell him outright that it's a bad idea. One or two of them are even buying into it a little.
Tess shyly says, "Yeah, it would be funny, but wouldn't it kind of make us look bad? Like, if you buy our car people will think you're a criminal?"
"No, I think people will get that it's a joke," Rick assures her.
"Actually, I have to agree with Tess," Greg says. "I mean, people will definitely think it's a joke, but not in a good way. It also gets away from our original thesis: the car is fun to drive."
"No, people will still get that it's fun to drive. We'll do a voice-over or something at the end to explain it," Rick says confidently. "I think this is a funny idea, and we can definitely still make the point that it's fun to drive. Tess, tell Steve we'll need to start auditioning actors. I think probably three guys, late 20s-early 30s. Sound good, everyone? Great. Greg, you and Sue start working on the script. Bill and I will talk to Special Effects. Great work, everyone!"

If you want to make a good commercial, think of it like a research paper. There is a problem in the world. Identify it. There are many possible solutions, but none of them are really viable, because of (x, y, z). Now, there is an answer! Here are all the ways OUR PRODUCT NAME solves your problem (we can install your new floor on whatever day you pick and will be done within one day! our car is super fun to drive! this magic powder can be added to any food without changing the flavor and will cause you to lose 10 pounds a week effortlessly!). OUR PRODUCT NAME is the best thing in the world and will definitely change your life! Here are more reasons to buy OUR PRODUCT NAME (testimonials, prices, convenient places to buy, pictures of sexy people). OUR PRODUCT NAME.


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