Yesterday was the Super Bowl (#45 if you care) and that meant it was time for, you guessed, Super Bowl ads. We all know that is the #1 reason anyone ever watches the game, right? 🙂 Anyhow, as usual, there were a plethora of ads this year. Some better than others. But that begs the question, what makes one ad “better” than another. Better to whom? To the viewer? Better for the advertiser? What makes a commercial effective? Does the ad really create strong brand awareness, make you want to learn more, or even buy the product? Or is it just a way for the ad agency to have another entry for this year’s Clio Awards (which are the “Oscars” of commercials).
Based on my 20+ years of business experience, combined with my knowledge as a filmmaker, this is my humble opinion about what makes a commercial “effective.” If you’re going to spend millions of dollars creating an ad, then another $2-$3 million for air time on the Super Bowl, I would hope you’d like a return on that investment. Lest you end up like the Pets.com puppet.
Whether or not you’re creating multi-million dollar ad campaigns, or are creating a 30 second spot to air on the local cable channel, these are 4 attributes you should keep in mind when creating your commercial.
- The Spot is Memorable: when you consider that the average person gets thousands of “messages” a day for products and services, the commercial needs to really stand out and make a lasting impression. It should cause people to talk about it around the water cooler the next day. Maybe it even makes you search for it on YouTube and share it on you Facebook wall.
- The Brand is Memorable: this is one area where many clever commercials fall short. They spend a lot of time entertaining you, but barely show the brand. People remember the commercial, but for the life of them they can’t remember what product it was for.
- Creates Affinity for the Brand: after watching the commercial, the viewer (either consciously or subconsciously) gains affinity for the brand. Perhaps the commercial uses a song, or an emotional moment to connect the viewer. Or maybe they use a celebrity personality to lend credibility.
- Ties the “Punchline” or “Gimmick” to the Benefit: for my money, the best ads are the ones that can tie the punchline or the “gimmick” of the commercial to the benefit of the product. In other words, is a feature of the product the very thing used to make the ad funny or memorable?
Here are examples of commercials (past and present) which I think score high marks in all of these areas.
“Where’s the Beef” (1984)
I think this ad scores high marks in all four categories. It’s memorable (27 years later, “where’s the beef” is part of our lexicon.) The brand, Wendy’s, is memorable. The little old ladies create affinity for the brand. And the punchline (the littlest old lady crying “Where’s the beef”) is directly tied to the benefit: Wendy’s hamburgers have more beef.
I’m a Mac. I’m a PC
Is there any doubt the “I’m a Mac. I’m a PC” series has been one of the most successful in history. I can’t tell you how many spoofs of it I’ve seen (this Tom Cruise one is hilarious). So we know it scores high on the memorable scale. Same for the remembering the brand and creating affinity for it (while at the same time poking fun at the competitor). And in every one, the benefit of the Mac is specifically tied to what makes them funny.
Here are 15 “I’m a Mac” ads in one video
Got Milk? (1994)
Another brilliant ad, mostly because of its simplicity. Created by the San Fran based firm of Goodby Silverstein, this ad has it all in spades. One of the great things I love about this ad is that in 60 seconds, with just visuals, it tells such a great story. A man obsessed with an insignificant subject matter, and the one time in his life where it may actually matter that he knows this obscure bit of trivia, he misses out on the opportunity because he didn’t have any milk. The story is so good, I frankly find it hard to believe it was directed by Michael Bay.
VW Vader Kid (2011)
I include this one because based on my few informal polls, this is the one commercial that seems to be on everyone’s list this year. I think it definitely scores high in memorability. And assuming the purpose is to demonstrate the car’s ability to turn on remotely, it scores extremely high connecting the “punchline” to the benefit. The only thing I’m not too sure about is the brand awareness. If people remember the brand, I’m not so much sure it’s because of the ad itself vs. the fact that people are re-watching it so many times. Then again, maybe that’s the point.
BMW’s “The Hire” Web Series (2001-2002)
This is kind of a cheat because this series was not a traditional commercial. But, this groundbreaking web series starring Clive Owen was most definitely meant to sell BMWs. Everything about it scores high in all four categories, particularly #4. The power, speed, precision, handling, and look of the BMW are all illustrated in the series.
This episode directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu was one of the most visually interesting. And since I know a lot of photographers read my blog, I thought you’d appreciate this one.
What have been some your favorite commercials and why?