Yes, I said commercial. I love commercials and always have. Lately, I haven’t seen many. Along with being unplugged, no longer tethered to a cable company comes with the option of skipping commercials (mostly). I just don’t see as much of a variety, and I was sure I wouldn’t miss them, but I do!
A great ad, tv spot, radio spot or event print execution is, in my opinion, worth the interruption and time it takes to absorb it. Why? Because there’s always something to learn and appreciate, even if the end goal is driving you toward purchasing a product or service. I didn’t realize how much I missed commercials until, during a Hulu binge, I noticed the number of commercials and was actually disappointed there were only three. I didn’t love the redundancy — it’s the same three spots shown at almost every break — but I did love the chance to absorb.
Once upon a time, commercials were long. They had a full story arc and characters, and we saw the product story as part of a whole. Then commercials got short as media costs skyrocketed and manufacturer budgets were cut. YouTube pioneered the micro ad at six seconds. Today, with the advent of new venues and vehicles, we’re seeing the return of the story, and it’s a beautiful thing.
Stories can help a product or service connect with our hearts, not just our minds or our wallets. Stories can help a brand establish its identity, equity and value. Even YouTube ads are getting longer, which could mean that consumers are seeing the value of them or have become accustomed to the interruption.
I’ve taught integrated marketing before, but this fall I’ll be teaching advertising, and so I thought it was important to find some compelling ads to share with my students. This turned out to be a fun adventure.
Thinking about categories where stories are being told, insurance comes to mind. Once a stodgy field with functionally oriented claims, it’s now littered with mascots (think: Geico’s gecko or Aflac’s duck) and protagonists with whole series (think: Mayhem in Allstate’s commercials or Flo in Progressive’s) who seek to connect to a consumer on a much more emotional level than prior insurance ever did.
This is true in other categories, as well, that have stuck with longer-form commercials or have added them into the mix. At the cinema, where commercials are getting longer as ticket sales increase, I saw the Hershey’s S’ mores Saturday spot and it made me reconsider the treat as a beacon of togetherness, not a story for a 15-second commercial. One of my favorites, a recent Nest commercial, brings the smart-home device to life in an entirely new way, and it’s the story that allows this brand to move from a technology to a caretaker. Education is another benefit of good advertising. Take, for example, Dove’s new ad for a body wash that promises to be gentle on your microbiome. Not many people know what microbiome is, and Dove admitted that and explained.
After studying advertising for decades — both hands-on in my work and as a passive observer — and helping clients develop and oversee advertising of all types, I’ve come up with four things that contribute to a commercial’s success. Look for these keys in commercials or promotions you experience or might be developing yourself:
• A recurring character that a viewer can grow to love or hate: Ideally, we’d like to engender a positive feeling but even annoyance can bond you to a brand. Think about the characters I mentioned above in insurance, like Geico’s gecko or the many cereal representatives like Tony the Tiger.
• A story arc, not just a sales pitch: As consumers, we want to hear stories. Even the shortest of stories can engage us. The Nest commercial above tells the story of a family. One of my all-time favorites is a Subaru commercial that shows a daughter growing up right before her dad’s eyes. It’s fast but a warm-hearted story nonetheless.
• A visceral connection, which means there’s a real emotional insight behind the idea: That same Subaru commercial connects because it’s about keeping our kids safe and the incredible passage of time. If you ask me, that’s a real emotional insight. Humor or warmth helps a lot.
• A venue where the bullseye target is reachable and willing to engage: By venue, this doesn’t always mean online or TV. In fact, when we’re talking about advertising in general, an effective campaign is often one that’s in the moment and experiential. For example, McDonald’s promoted its McFlurry around the world with a temperature-sensitive panel that only opens on hot days to give away free McFlurries.
There are so many more stories being told by brands that are worth 30 seconds — 30 seconds that may make us actually reconsider a purchase decision. If not, they may still inspire us to think differently, learn a little about a category we may have previously ignored, and even experience 30 seconds of enjoyment, humor or emotion. The lure of commercials continues to be a focus for me and I’ll be back with examples of more to consider soon. In the meantime, don’t fast forward — enjoy the ride!