Commercials: The little things are starting to pile up
Last week, I wrote about details in writing - whether it’s for commercials or creative writing. I spotlighted a couple of commercials that I thought could have been improved and one that I felt was well-done.
And because there seems to be no end to the number of TV commercials that annoy me…I present ‘Part 2.’
I hadn’t planned on doing another post on commercials today – or even on advertising in general – but soon after I had finished writing last week’s diatribe, I felt another one welling up inside me. So please forgive me for indulging in a second little rant; heck, it’s my blog, after all!
Of course I hope, as always, that some of points I make about copy writing and production can be directly correlated to other types of writing such as poems, stories, and books. Continuity errors, misleading untruths, and confusing messages are hardly confined to the advertising realm.
Which unravels faster: the clothes or the message?
Some things get better with time: wine, cheese, friendships. A sales message should not be one of them. In the case of the following commercial, it took repeated viewings – and an explanation from my wife – for me to understand just what’s going on. This is a perfect example of a message getting lost in creativity:
Here’s your trivia question: what’s with the yarn?? Why is this car unraveling all these clothes? If you don’t know, go ahead and watch it again and see if you can figure it out.
Now then, if you have the answer, congratulations – you did better than me. I had seen this TV spot innumerable times and never knew what was going on. It took my wife at least seven viewings before she suddenly announced, “I finally figured it out!” She explained that the clothes are unraveling because winter is over and the car is bringing spring to the world. In actuality, after I paid close attention to it, the commercial is advertising a sale.
No prices, no features, no Unique Selling Proposition…just an announcement for a sale. This commercial basically takes half a minute to say, “We’re having a sale.” I could be way off base here, but wouldn’t it be nice to know why I should care about the sale – or why I should want an Infiniti? Is it too much to ask for a few little details? Perhaps, if one can afford to own an Infiniti, one already knows all about the features of the Infiniti and therefore one needn’t concern oneself with the price of an Infiniti.
But that negates the need for a sale now, doesn’t it?
Fun with science
Every time this commercial comes on the TV, my wife sighs. Not because of the commercial itself, but because of my reaction to a mere 1.5 seconds of it:
This isn’t a bad commercial…but it is misleading. Check out what’s happening :15 in. See those little yellowish critters, squiggling around in the sewage? Those are supposed to be enzymes, breaking down the waste. Well, guess what?
Here’s a news flash: enzymes are MOLECULES, folks!
They are naturally-occurring chemicals - not living creatures that scoot around inside your septic tank, chewing up your poop like Pac-Man chasing after a cherry.
This is what drives me nuts. I know this dramatization has nothing to do with the true efficacy of Rid-X, but when I see this blatant error (or misleading animation – I’m not sure which), it makes me wonder what else I’m being misled about. Be true to your subject! Whether you’re writing a commercial, poem, or novel…remember that suspension of disbelief only goes so far.
A good commercial, made better
This spot, by contrast, is a fine example of a clear, compelling message:
Zero Water filters are so good, they can filter out wine from tap water! I have no idea if that’s true, but it only took me one viewing of this commercial to understand that message. Like most good commercials, it’s a story: wine is poured into tap water, tap water is filtered, the Zero Water filter filters out the wine while the competition fails. And the genuinely surprised reaction by the man in the audience is a nice touch – a small detail, like we talked about last week - that makes a big impact.
But the commercial wasn’t always this good. Here’s how it first appeared:
The two biggest changes the ad agency made were the most important. First, they took the focus off the waiter; his goofy expression takes away from the straightforward, realistic style of a more-or-less-serious spot. And the reaction of the woman was, well, uhh – almost a non-reaction. She’s just sort of…there. The gentleman in the newer spot appears to be honestly surprised and impressed, and that air of realism is important to the overall tone of the spot.
Be honest, be clear!
Don’t muddle your message with some cutesy ‘hook’ – like pulling strands of yarn off people to sell a luxury car in the spring. “Spring” is not the message, and “yarn” certainly isn’t, either. And don’t assume your potential customers are too stupid to know what you’re telling them, such as enzymes that go chomp-chomp-chomping around your septic system. Be honest, be clear, and make sure viewers (or listeners, if you’re in radio) know what you’re selling and why they should care.
Those two things – the product/service and the benefit of that product/service – should be first and foremost in your mind.
I’ll take “highly effective” over “highly creative” any day.