And I sorta doubt this one had consumers running out to buy their product:
Some are just plain gross. This next one could not possibly have paid off:
Or, they make you smile and associate their beer with a sense of humor:
(And seriously, I don't even drink Bud. Ever. But somebody over there has a great sense of humor.)
Writing a commercial is (obviously) an art unto itself. I have commercials I personally loathe, no matter the fact that they're beautifully shot and follow a three-act structure and are memorable. [We are about to start the Valentine hostage, er, holiday celebration, wherein men around the country are made to feel like crap if they don't fork over money for diamonds for the love of their lives, and women are made to feel like crap if their guy doesn't love them enough to blow a wad of money on a shiny rock. There is no sense of humor about these things, no irony, no tongue-in-cheek… just determination to bludgeon dollars out of bank accounts, using guilt. I think shiny things are fine, but let's keep some perspective.]
Anyway, writing a commercial requires such a compressed, efficient story-telling skill, they're worth examining because the really memorable ones can teach us a great deal about good story-telling.
Set up: The opening image sets up the world:
In the rock/paper/scissors, we see an opening scene of a family-styled gathering for a picnic: sunshine, low hum of friendly people talking in clusters, picnic tables, food. This is a friendly world, one where trust is implied.
Inciting incident: Two men both grab for the last iced beer.
Conflict: Finding a fair (implied trust) method of solving who should get the beer. They opt for the tried and true friendly "rock, paper, scissors" game.
Climax: One "throws" paper, which technically "covers" or "beats" rock, but the other throws an actual rock
Resolution: The cleverest player wins.
(Message–even friendship is not worth losing the last beer over… or, smart people get the last beer, so if you're drinking a Bud, you're smart.)
The harsh reality of a commercial is that they only have a few seconds, at best, to set up the world and the conflict. We have a tad bit more room to set up our stories in our novels, but in all honesty, we don't have that much more room. I've talked to editors and agents, and sat in on panels where they've been discussing reading something new and the cold harsh truth is, we have about five pages to capture their attention. In that five pages, we need to set up the world, the characters, and the potential conflict. We don't necessarily have to show the main conflict, the inciting incident that soon, but we have to show inherent conflict in the world, something that's going to imply that a bigger problem is about to beset these characters.
Why must we move so quickly? Well, we're selling something, whether we like it or not… we're selling them on continuing to read the next five pages, and the next five after that. The best novels don't just describe a world… they describe a world in conflict. If the point of the story is that an idyllic world is about to be upset, then some foreshadowing is necessary to keep the agent or editor from eye-rolling over the bucolic boring stasis of the world. We need to create anticipation a problem.
The dating scene is a great example: this is a romantic date, with candles and beautiful table setting and each person seems happy to be there. But the voice-over claims that "breathing fire" is one of the new advantages to drinking Bud Light and as the guy very romantically breathes flame and lights the first candle, we are already anticipating a problem. We're already willing to forgive them their perfect world because we know it's about to be upset.
As we're writing, we have to look at every scene for imagery, (world), conflict and stakes. Each moment has to build on the last. The "build" can be subtle or big, dark or ironic, humorous or sad, but the tension has to keep increasing, or you've reached a plateau and the reader is going to feel it and get bored.
So, enough for today–I'm sure some of you are rooting for your favorite team (GO STEELERS) and some of you are goofing around on the internet (hi there) and some of you are off working or playing with the family. If you want to check out past years commercials, this is a very convenient site where ten years' worth are easy-to-click: Superbowl Ads
So how about you… what is YOUR favorite ad from the last few years? Or which one do you loathe?