Intricate Plot or Convoluted Scheme?
The idea for this post came to me about a week ago while I was watching TV. While the main focus is on broadcast advertising, hopefully others – especially those who write novels, picture books, or short stories – can glean something from it as well.
Before we go any further, please watch this:
I had seen this commercial several times and always wondered, what the heck is going on??
Michael Symon and Eva Longoria spend the entire commercial getting bombarded with flavor suggestions by random strangers…ok. So why does everyone want to throw a pie at them? And why don’t they throw the pies at them? And why is everyone dancing at the end?
And by the way…what is it you can win? (Wait, wait! Don’t replay it…just read on.)
It’s a short drive from intricate to convoluted…
When it comes to your plot, it’s very easy to go from one to the other. In advertising, in an effort to make their commercials stand out from the pack, agencies always feel a need to be as wild and crazy as they can be. Agencies love what they call the “Wow” factor…whether it makes sense or not.
Likewise, in creative writing, an author may have an urge to bring in too many odd characters or feature strange or unlikely events. That’s why we have critique groups, mentors, and editors. Agencies should be so lucky.
Now, I’m not putting down agencies; I’ve done quite a bit of commercial voicework for a number of agencies around the country, and there are a lot of great ones out there being run by some wonderful people. Admittedly, they have a tough job. They need to satisfy their clients (the business they’re advertising), impress their peers, and still try to put together an effective commercial that makes viewers or listeners respond to the ‘call to action.’ (That’s an industry term which refers to the action you want the viewer to take – maybe it’s calling an 800 number, perhaps it’s showing up at an Open House, or, in this case, logging onto their Facebook page)
Unfortunately with this commercial, the call to action was clear, but I still couldn’t figure out what the deal was with the pies – or why New York’s Flat Iron District suddenly turned into Dance Party, USA.
Even my 17-year-old daughter, who is probably part of the commercial’s targeted demographic, looked at me after watching it and said, “What the heck was that??”
Don’t bury the message!
Let’s briefly analyze the structure of the spot, shall we?
First, Symon tells you what Lay’s is doing. Then he tells you what the winner gets. Five seconds before the commercial ends, the off-camera announcer tells you how to enter the contest and reminds you what you could win. In between all of this, a motley crowd of potato chip devotees shout out – sometimes rather agressively – their suggestions for a new flavor.
Oh, and what is that prize?
ONE MILLION DOLLARS!
If you submit the winning new flavor, you could pay off that mortgage…take that dream vacation you’ve always wanted…maybe even retire early! Think of all the ways your life could be better, easier, more comfortable…with ONE MILLION DOLLARS!!
It’s a shame they just gloss over that fact, wouldn’t you say?
Appeal to the viewer’s concerns!
Which is a stronger line: “The winner will receive a million dollars!” or “You could win a million dollars!”
The second line is much more powerful, because it speaks directly to the viewer/listener. The announcer uses this line at the end, but it’s too bad that the message of winning is secondary to a list of kooky flavors, odd characters, and a potentially bizarre cream pie incident.
I always tell my clients to approach their advertising from the listeners’ or viewers’ point of view, and try to appeal to their emotions, interests, or concerns. I hate to admit it, but commercials are viewed as interruptions, plain and simple – and if the message is muddled, it’s going to get lost. Buried.
I’m sure Lay’s and their agency wanted something fun and eye-catching – and really, when ISN’T Eva Longoria eye-catching? Throw in a bunch of bright colors and music, add Michael Symon for some gravitas, and boom! You’ve got a :30 commercial.
Breakfast-flavored potato chips??
I’m sure the promotion will be successful; it was in the UK, where the winning flavor was (are you ready?) “Breakfast.” Heck, I’m trying to come up with some good flavors, myself. And social media being what it is, Lay’s will get plenty of mileage out of the spot and the promotion. I just think the commercial itself could have been more effective if the style hadn’t overpowered the substance.
But we’re all guilty of doing that now and then, aren’t we?
One other question: their Facebook page features a fake bag of bearclaw-flavored chips, just like the police officer suggested, but the graphic on the ‘bag’ is of two donuts! Donuts are NOT bearclaws, people! Can we get a little quality control here, please?
Or am I way too sensitive about my pastries?