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Telling a story in a commercial

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Todd TerryTelling a story in a commercial
by on Oct 7, 2014 at 2:41:55 am

I meant to post this a few days ago when I first saw it on air, but just now thought to do it...

Anyone who thinks that television commercials aren't good vehicles for really telling a story should check out GE's new corporate image spot, "The Boy Who Beeps"...






I've rarely seen a better two minutes of film... inside a theatre, or out. Great story, brilliant direction, perfect casting. I haven't seen better storytelling in a commercial since Google's "Parisian Love" a few years ago (also brilliant). Oh, and listen with great speakers or headphones and you'll hear all kinds of nuances in the sound design that must have been a ton of work, too.

I know this is the kind of spot that would make my dad go "Huh?"... but to me it's darn near perfect.

It also makes me feel incredibly inadequate as a commercial producer.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Mark SuszkoRe: Telling a story in a commercial
by on Oct 7, 2014 at 3:11:36 pm
Last Edited By Mark Suszko on Oct 7, 2014 at 3:45:01 pm

It reminded me of an Isaac Asimov robot story, "Lenny". Which I'd love to someday shoot as a short.

What I found interesting about the storyline of the spot is how everyone just more or less accepts the boy at every stage of the story. That part doesn't ring true to reality, but the spot is using what's been called "magical realism".


People seem sharply divided regarding them, but there's an entire series of insurance spots done for some asian corporation that are so epically melodramatic, you can't help but appreciate the emotional manipulation, even as you recognize it for what it is. It is pushing all the buttons of what makes us human, and I think if they don't affect you, you might need counseling.

Get the kleenex ready:












































There are many more of these out there. I think why I react so strongly to them relates to what first drew me to media for a career. The ability to reach inside another person's mind and heart, and make them feel what you want them to feel, and to think about something the way you do...to reach out and communicate on an empathic level... I find that incredibly powerful and at the same time, artistically challenging. That such power is most typically used for communicating sales messages, is sort of a waste, compared to being able to inspire people to higher levels of achievement or understanding or happiness. But it teaches us how to communicate, then it's up to us to communicate something worthwhile. That's the ultimate goal, I guess. To make a meaningful message that contributes something to the human experience.



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Todd TerryRe: Telling a story in a commercial
by on Oct 7, 2014 at 4:32:26 pm

That's some really good stuff.

As for....

[Mark Suszko] "It reminded me of an Isaac Asimov robot story, "Lenny". Which I'd love to someday shoot as a short."

Harlan Ellison beat you to it... sort of. His screenplay "I, Robot" is based on Asimov's "Lenny," although by the time it became a finished film you'd never know it. I don't think there was even a character named Lenny in the final movie... although there certainly was in the screenplay.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Mark SuszkoRe: Telling a story in a commercial
by on Oct 7, 2014 at 6:17:00 pm

I have an illustrated copy of the "I, Robot" script Harlan wrote. It is perfect, just as written. If produced, I'm sure it would get at least a nomination for best adapted screenplay. Did you know Harlan wrote an episode of "The Flying Nun"? I wanted to win his autographed copy in the auction but missed out.

Regarding the insurance spots, though. Do you find it strange we don't see this kind of spot more in the US? What's your take on why that is?


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Lowell NilesRe: Telling a story in a commercial
by on Oct 7, 2014 at 6:23:26 pm

How can all these "TV" commercials be so long? Don't people tune out after 30 seconds? I've done a lot of TV spots, none of them over 30 seconds. It's hard to get the basic company info in, much less tell a story.

Did these examples really air on TV? How are they 2, 3, or 7 minutes long?

Lowell Niles
Creative Director, Sunword Studios
http://sunword.com


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Mark SuszkoRe: Telling a story in a commercial
by on Oct 7, 2014 at 6:47:02 pm

While we're used to 30's, some 60's, a few 15's and even blipvert-sized fives, I think the only thing that really stops US spots from having longer running time is the will by some client to pay for that time. Certainly, you could stack a buy of several one minute slots and then just run one longer program across them, technically. I don't know that there's any fixed policy prohibiting that, except the cost of coordinating such a thing.

CAN you tell one of the stories from those samples of mine in less time? I think you could cut a 60 and still have the gist of it. A thirty could be hard, then again, much depends on the creativity of the writer, cutter and director.

Would you think it weird, that I try to put a Campbellian "Heroes' Journey" story arc into 30-second and 60-second spots? It may be pretty thin, but I like to try to fit it in when I can.


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Todd TerryRe: Telling a story in a commercial
by on Oct 7, 2014 at 8:04:10 pm

I think part of it is that people's attention spans, especially in the US, are so short these days.

We've never actually counted or added it up, but by my best guess I've directed and/or produced somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 television commercials. Of those, I can think of FOUR that were :60s. Maybe six, tops. Virtually all the rest were :30s. Maybe a few :10s and :15s here and there, and even some :04 ID spots, but they wouldn't account for more than 100 or so. 99.8% of them have been thirty-second spots.

It is really hard to tell a real story in thirty seconds, and frankly we don't always get to do that. Or even usually get to do that. More like sometimes get to do that. But at least it's a good goal.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Mark SuszkoRe: Telling a story in a commercial
by on Oct 7, 2014 at 8:39:00 pm

To me, the thirty-second limitation is like the rules of haiku poetry: on one hand they can be seen as limiting, but I really enjoy the effort to tell that story within the constrictions of the format, and restrictions of budget. If you gave me an unlimited budget and two hours, I'm not sure I'd know what to do with it all! :-)

But looking at these Asian spots, they reward an audience's attention at every turn: every couple of seconds, they do something that makes you want to stick around and see what comes after. In that, they are like mini soap operas, with a cliffhanger "beat" every 10-15 seconds. And they cover a lot of ground in their story arcs. Heavy use of montage helps convey a lot of information and emotional context in a short time. The music use is heavy-handed but dead-on effective in adding more emotional layers and empathic cues. There's just a lot of craftsmanship that goes into one of these.


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Lowell NilesRe: Telling a story in a commercial
by on Oct 8, 2014 at 6:42:06 pm

LOL at getting your hero's journey in 30 seconds, Mark. That is a lofty goal.

I see, if you buy several slots you can have a several-minute, story-telling commercial. I agree that our attention span here in 'Murica is short, but if I'm watching a show, I don't stop in the middle of it and watch another entire show then go back and finish the first show... To me, being willing or able to do that is akin to having ADD. It's very interesting to see how it's done elsewhere.

I just signed up for 6-ad commercial series (four 0:30 ads and two 0:15 ads). I wonder if we can pull this off as being some sort of sextology (the 6-version of trilogy? My best guess for the correct word) and tell a story over the course of the 6 ads. The client is flexible and I can pitch this, with the last ad being due in December as the Christmas special. Has anyone done this? I guess it's a form of branding.

Lowell Niles
Creative Director, Sunword Studios
http://sunword.com


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Bill DavisRe: Telling a story in a commercial
by on Oct 8, 2014 at 7:03:44 pm

[Lowell Niles] "The client is flexible and I can pitch this, with the last ad being due in December as the Christmas special. Has anyone done this? I guess it's a form of branding."

Make darn sure you keep your media buyer in the loop with all this.

Their calculations about reach and frequency will be critical if you want the majority of the audience to comprehend a story arc that bridges separate spots.

Know someone who teaches video editing in elementary school, high school or college? Tell them to check out http://www.StartEditingNow.com - video editing curriculum complete with licensed practice content.


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Mark SuszkoRe: Telling a story in a commercial
by on Oct 8, 2014 at 9:04:57 pm
Last Edited By Mark Suszko on Oct 8, 2014 at 9:09:42 pm

"I wonder if we can pull this off as being some sort of sextology (the 6-version of trilogy? My best guess for the correct word) and tell a story over the course of the 6 ads. The client is flexible and I can pitch this, with the last ad being due in December as the Christmas special. Has anyone done this? I guess it's a form of branding.
"


You never saw the Taster's Choice" campaign?

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Gold Blend couple was a British television advertising campaign for Nescafé Gold Blend instant coffee. The original campaign ran for twelve 45-second installments between 1987 and 1993. It starred Anthony Head and Sharon Maughan as Tony and Sharon, a couple who begin a slow-burning romance over a cup of the advertised coffee. The ads were in a serial format, with each ad ending on a cliffhanger. The commercials were extremely popular, and as time went on, the appearance of a new installment would merit considerable media attention. The ads were developed by McCann Erickson. They are one of the most famous examples of serialized advertising.

Beginning in 1990, new versions of the ads were produced for the American market, where Gold Blend was called "Taster's Choice," and the ads were referred to as the "Taster's Choice saga". Head and Maughan reprised their roles, but used American accents in the reshot ads. After the first two nearly identical ads, the American ads diverged into their own storyline.

The campaign was a remarkable success, producing various tie-in products, including a novelization entitled Love Over Gold by Susan Moody, a video compilation of the ads, and two music CDs. The ads had a notable effect on sales, increasing them over 50% in the UK alone. They have been heralded as a premier example of positioning, creating an atmosphere of sophistication while remaining relatable. They were frequently compared to a soap opera, even sometimes favorably compared to their contemporaries, such as Dynasty, Moonlighting, or thirtysomething. Famously, Head and Maughan appeared on the cover of The Sun after their campaign concluded and the two characters confessed their love for each other.

In later years, there were two additional series of ads starring new couples. The second series starred Louise Hunt and Mark Aiken and focused on a younger, more career-oriented woman, running for six installments until 1997. In 1998, a new version with Simone Bendix and Neil Roberts began, but the campaign was discontinued after only one ad.
















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Lowell NilesRe: Telling a story in a commercial
by on Oct 9, 2014 at 1:24:12 am

No Mark, never knew about the "Gold Blend" series until now... Very good reference! It seems to me like Gold Blend was being marketed as an upscale, fancy coffee for people with refined taste. The overall theme IMO was luxury, taste, class. I like that they focused on that.

For my series of ads, the client is a retail chain and wants to focus on their large selection, friendliness, buying power, 12 thousand distribution centers, employee knowledge and enthusiasm about the products, and that they're neither a big-box store nor a small boutique, but something right in the middle (just the right size). I don't know how to get all of those points into a 30-second spot AND tell a story, but we are still working on it.

Lowell Niles
Creative Director, Sunword Studios
http://sunword.com


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Mark SuszkoRe: Telling a story in a commercial
by on Oct 9, 2014 at 1:45:19 am

I worked on a radio campaign for a company like that one time. They wanted to stand apart from the big box stores but show that thru a dealer network, they could compete on products and prices, and they wanted to stress that they were a reliable, trusted and knowledgeable town institution going 'way back 2 generations.

What I came up with was I interviewed the two sons, now running the family business, and wrote scripts that played on the dynamic between them, trying for a homespun, friendly rivalry theme, where the older brother played more or less the straight man for the younger brother's more enthusiastic approach to things. This let each brother represent different aspects and features of the business thru their personalities. The trick was not to take it too far into goofiness on the younger brother's part, or to make the older brother too stiff and humorless. And to make the spots real conversations, not two guys reading script copy.

I went thru a lot of work to develop the campaign in stages, getting each "chapter" to lead to another week's spots and specials, pretty much swiping the Gold Blend model ( if you crossed it with Prairie Home Companion, maybe).

The brothers, enthusiastic at first, took my complete package to their dad, who was still the tie-breaker behind the scenes, for his blessing. He said it wasn't hard-sell. I countered that it was "smart-sell": rewarding the listeners attention and entertaining them, in a way they wouldn't tune-out, so that even if they weren't in the market for an appliance, *today*, the store name would stick, and would be top-of-mind when they DID need an appliance, *tomorrow*.

In the end, the brothers passed on my campaign and offered me some store credit by way of making things even. I didn't need any app;dances at the time so I let it go. Three weeks later, I hear a re-cut, much abbreviated attempt at the same type of spots I'd pitched the appliance guys, only done by the local shlock radio guy. But the guy pirating my playbook didn't have the research and deeper understanding I had, he'd tried to graft my homespun guys theme onto a hard sell message to please the dad, and it didn't really work. The mutant version of my campaign didn't last very long at all. The appliance store didn't last much longer than that, either, but I think it was because dad never did really "retire" to let the sons run the biz, and they each had disparate visions of how that should work.

Epilog: I was still able to enter the original scripts I'd written into a regional contest, and they won a first place in the radio script copy category, even though they'd never been produced and aired my way. I got a hoot out of that.


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Lowell NilesRe: Telling a story in a commercial
by on Oct 9, 2014 at 3:22:12 am

Your story reminds me of the guys who do "Car Talk". Great radio show. I'm glad you got some positive affirmation in the end.

I can't tell you how many times pitches my team was sure would be a hit have been rejected in favor of the old fashioned, hard-sell, formulaic approach. I keep a notebook and save my ideas for other clients. We were able to produce ads that got millions of views on youtube and other outlets, so this is what I point clients to when they balk at our ideas.

Anyway, sorry to digress the thread from the original posts!

Lowell Niles
Creative Director, Sunword Studios
http://sunword.com


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Lowell NilesRe: Telling a story in a commercial
by on Oct 8, 2014 at 6:43:44 pm

Wow Todd you've done a lot of ads. Great to have your insight!

Lowell Niles
Creative Director, Sunword Studios
http://sunword.com


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