Commercials: It’s the little things that mean so much

After spending April celebrating National Poetry Month, I’m glad to get back into one of the other aspects of this blog: advertising! But as you might know, I try to offer something for all writers when I discuss voice work, commercials, or copy writing.  In past posts, I’ve touched on a variety of topics that, although they are about commercial production, the insights I try to impart can be utilized in various forms of writing.

I hope I can say the same for this post – because it’s all about details.

You see, I’m a stickler for them. Some might say I’m a perfectionist, but I don’t think so.  I am, to use an overused cliché, very detail-oriented. And although I admit some things get past me, I will usually pore over the details of the scripts and audio I’m working on to make sure everything is as it should be. Which is why I am constantly surprised that glaring inconsistencies get past entire boardrooms and committees made up of advertising execs.

Are you sure that’s the Downward Dog?

Take, for instance, this commercial that’s been going around for a few months:

On the surface, there isn’t really anything terribly wrong with this spot. It tries to connect with the viewer by offering scenarios that might be familiar with potential clients. It has some good clips of average hotel customers engaging in a variety of activities one would might expect. But what’s going on there, 10 seconds into the spot? Go ahead and watch it again, and pause at exactly :10.

Now, I’m no yoga expert, but I’m pretty sure that woman is attempting a pose that is NOWHERE CLOSE to the pose on the TV. Aside from the fact that I can’t imagine anyone eating cereal while doing yoga…what is going on there?? Who was in charge of continuity? How did this get past everyone – from producers to director to editing crew to boardroom to client – and get the green light? Perhaps they all hoped that this gaffe might give them some additional exposure by being spotlighted on Matt Forrest’s Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme blog, in which case, I suppose it paid off.

The seafood commercial that’s not:

Now let’s take a look at a great example of why it’s important that the imagery you use in your “highly creative” commercial should directly relate to your product:

OK, so what’s the one image you recall from that commercial? Most folks would probably say bears, which aren’t popularly known for eating vegetables. Or perhaps fish, since that’s what the mother bear was trying to catch for dinner. I doubt most people would say the first thing they remember is “new flavours of seasoned vegetable blends that can be microwaved.”

Did you realize those are new vegetable blends? Did you know the bags can be microwaved?  Did you realize these blends are seasoned? Do you know any of the flavours?

Now, maybe I’m way off base here, but these seem to be pretty important points, wouldn’t you say? I mean, if you’re selling bags of seasoned frozen vegetables that don’t need to be opened before cooking, and they come in all sorts of new, chef-inspired flavours, shouldn’t you be telling people this – instead of leaving them with the image in their head of bears fishing for salmon??

By the way, while preparing this blog post, I mentioned this commercial to my 18-year-old daughter, who was aware of it and told me there’s also one featuring wolves (you can view that here).  But hold on there, Jethro – even though I said she remembered the commercial, I didn’t say she remembered what it was for.  She knew it was advertising frozen vegetables, but couldn’t recall the flavours, the benefits, or the brand.

Which is good news for Green Giant, Hanover, Pictsweet, and any other frozen vegetable brand out there.

The beauty in realism

When one considers all the times that ad agencies lose sight of their message, goof up their continuity, or get bogged down with trying to be funny instead of being effective…it’s nice to see spots like this:

This commercial fulfills all its obligations.  It immediately draws the viewer into a story involving a number of different types of people – young folks, adults, men, women – all of whom are potential customers. It creates interest in the product, deftly showcasing the Galaxy’s new features by showing, not telling (something all those creative writers out there know more than just a little about). And it not only showcases the features, but more importantly, it demonstrates the benefits of those features.

Hands-free answering and viewing?  Cool.  Sharing pics simply by touching phones back-to-back, or taking multiple quick-action photos and seeing a time-lapse of all the action in one picture?  Way cool.  Remote-control of your TV?  Now we’re talkin’ ice cold.  But the best part of the spot?  Four magical words that come at the :40 mark.  Right after a young woman takes a photo and shares it with her friend by placing the backs of their phones together, the grandmother asks that same young woman if she’d mind sharing the photo on her phone, too – to which the young woman replies:

“Yours doesn’t do that.”

Ouch.  Harsh, no?  Yet we’ve all been there. We’ve either been the young woman or we’ve been the grandmother, in some circumstance or another, where we really, really, wanted to do something, but couldn’t. Being left out sucks – and this commercial reinforces that feeling gently but powerfully, with just four little words.

Creative writers, take note!

Details.  Show, don’t tell.  Relatable characters.  The same things that make commercials work (or not work) make your writing work or not work, whether it’s a picture book, poem, or novel.

If you are a creative writer, none of this is news to you – but hopefully it serves as a reminder how important these sorts of things are. If you’re a copy writer or producer, none of this should be news to you, either – but obviously a couple of these points got past at least a few people at Bird’s Eye and Homewood Suites.

Frozen veggies, hotel rooms, or smartphones…vampires, love triangles, or puppies…no matter what you’re writing about, no matter why, be good to your subject.  Draw attention, create interest, tell your story – and pay attention to the details!

12 thoughts on “Commercials: It’s the little things that mean so much

  1. Pingback: Commercials: It's the little things that mean s...

  2. Catherine Johnson

    Awesome analysis, Matt! I didn’t spot the yoga thing the first time (probably because I’m on my phone) but that’s really bad. I did like the last one but they all jump around a lot.


  3. Hi Matt,

    Another thought-provoking blog. You may want to label this a “devil’s advocate” comment, but I think there is a point to that whole wrong yoga pose while eating a bowl of cereal component that points to the main crux of that ad’s message.
    “Hilton – your home away from home.” In other words, “We at Hilton won’t judge you or mark you down for doing the wrong yoga pose while eating a bowl of cereal.” Home is just the right place to do the “wrong” thing, right? When I see the wrong Yoga pose, I think Hilton’s trying to say, “When it comes to making you feel at home, we aren’t grading you, but we know you’re grading us.”


    1. Interesting perspective, Kevin – although I think you’re giving the producers too much credit! If they wanted to infer what you’re saying, they could easily do that with her eating the cereal, which is about as laid-back as a yoga practitioner might be; they didn’t need to have her doing a completely different pose. I really don’t mind the cereal bowl as much as the two competing poses. Not to over-analyze it, but the two poses couldn’t be anymore different – so it’s not like she’s accidentally making a little mistake. I just think it was a case of them falling asleep at the continuity.


  4. Pingback: 10 Top Voiceover Blog Posts This Week - May 19, 2013 | Derek Chappell's Voiceover Blog

  5. You want continuity problems? Watch a sitcom, such as New Girl or Cougar Town. The continuity breaks are conspicuous and distract from the enjoyment of watching the show. Now, here in Japan, they love to use hit songs– old, new, foreign, domestic – on TV spots. They even show the artist’s name in the corner of the screen. I hear the music and can’t remember the product.


    1. I think people are confusing the term ‘quick edit’ for a method of editing, rather than a style. When I was production director for a 5-station radio group, we’d always have clients wanting to use copyrighted music for their spots. I had to explain to them that not only is a popular song distracting from your message…it’s illegal!


  6. Pingback: Commercials: The little things are starting to pile up | Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

  7. Pingback: A good story, well-told, always trumps the gimmicks | Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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