Sad Men

Using emotions to sell products.

By Colin Peters

Conflict + Humor + Resolution + Last Laugh = Commercial success!  Certainly, this doesn’t apply to all commercials; but most Super Bowl-worthy advertisements follow a basic cookie-cutter formula for delivering a company’s message.  They’re fun, entertaining and subtly throw a product in your face.  I present: Exhibit A. Exhibit B. Exhibit C.  Recently, there’s been a slightly different trend in advertising.

Commercials have been upping their game.  They’re getting much better, much more serious and dramatic, and at the same time, less effective.  The most engaging commercials are also the least impressionable.  They get your attention, they get you talking, they generate buzz; but at the end of your conversation when the inevitable question, “What was the commercial for?” arises, you’ll be at a loss.  Don’t worry; it’s not your fault.  It’s the advertisers fault.  This is either the most brilliant mechanism of marketing or an incredibly unfortunate flaw of creativity.

Brilliant: You remember the ad but don’t remember the company, which therefore leads you to look it, up online.  If this is the case, the company succeeds by getting you to take time out of your day to pursue their advertisements.  Instead of fast forwarding on your DVR, you actually pursue the ad online because you want to see it again.

Not: You remember the ad but don’t remember the company.  You remember the narrative, the images, the music but nothing else.  The advertisement failed.

What I consider to be the most interesting advertisements have been the ones that advertise something other than the product.  They advertise a city, an idea, a feeling…then their product somehow reflects that.  Maybe it’s an unfair way of enticing consumers, but it’s an incredibly compelling way of hooking a viewer and I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for it.  These commercials are sort of “video poems” because they hardly tell you what they’re selling.  They tell you something greater, they stir your emotions; make you feel something, then tag their name at the end.  It’s an interesting was of communicating a product, and I’m still not sure if it’s good advertising, but it’s certainly an engaging art form.

I was watching football with my roommate on opening weekend, which coincided with the 10th anniversary of September 11th.  Not surprisingly, there was an add that dared to address the tragedy.  It was classy, touching, patriotic, and included a kid’s choir- I’m a sucker for kid’s choirs. Before the commercial ended, I said something along the lines of, “I hope this ends gracefully.  I hope someone had the balls to pay for this as a tribute without trying to profit.”  Of course, that wasn’t the case.  However, I will give the advertisers credit, nothing was said about the company.  It was only a title that signified, “We paid for this.” I suppose that’s excusable.  It’s far better than this Bud ad that stirs sympathy for veterans while shamelessly promoting beer.

Here are some commercials that have piqued my interest recently.

Vauxhall– This commercial might be totally in line with the “unfair” advertisements that stir emotion before properly identifying what they’re advertising, but it’s still pretty cool.  It’s also from a different country so it’s hard to me to properly appreciate the reputation associated with the company.  It’s for a car company apparently owned by GM.  However, this 1-minute spot has a simple and emotional narrative that immediately engages you as a viewer.

Samsung– This is a great example of a “video poem.” An authoritative narrator says some cool shit while you watch some cool shit.  Sure, there’s a shot of a phone every few seconds, but you’re not paying attention to the phone- you’re watching the cool stuff on the phone.  It’s hard to argue with Martin Luther King Jr., Rocky, a pro-surfer/shark attack survivor, or Pete Townshend smashing a guitar.  This ad is remniscent of early Apple commercials and the “Think Different” campaign.

Chrylser Here is an example of a company advertising a city; a city that, of course, leads the viewer to appreciate the company, but still, it’s an interesting concept.  This commercial is a love song for Detroit.  Indeed, it debuted during the Super Bowl, but it was unlike any commercial this year.  It’s dramatic, it has character and it stands for something.  The slogan “Imported From Detroit” is quite clever and only strengthens the message.

Levi’s (1, 2, 3, 4)- The first time I saw these ads, I thought- “This better be for something awesome.”  Unfortunately, they weren’t.  They’re ads for jeans.  Still, there is an incredible spirit in these ads.  In some ways, it saddens me.  If these videos weren’t ads, they would be fantastic super-mini-short films.  It’s easy for me to love these commercials because I like the message.  There’s little product involved in these packages, and it’s therefore easy for me to forget what the ad is about.  They’re advertising ideas, not jeans; and they’re hoping these ideas will lead me to their product.  Unfortunately (for them), it removes me to a point where I can say, “Wow, that’s a great commercial,” purely based on video content, without giving two shits about what they’re selling.

Still, these are superb examples of “video poems,” with classic poetry actually included.  Well played Levi’s, well  played.

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