Over the last few months, I’ve written a number of columns that attempted to remind us all that content is king. Just to clarify before I go any further, it’s not that I don’t love data, targeting and technology -- I do. It’s that none of these work without good, solid, beautiful, engaging content.
A number of publications, in their year-end issues and recaps, are calling out their favorite ads of the year. Adweek’s list was topped by my personal favorite, “The Force” Volkswagen commercial. If you haven’t seen this one, then you live in a bubble, because apparently it has received almost 45 million views on YouTube alone, and that doesn’t count the countless copies and shares that may not have surfaced on YouTube. This spot is a prime example of why content is king: it’s about the craft of telling a story in 60 seconds or less.
You can debate the balance of art and science in advertising till you’re smurf-blue in the face, but when you dive into the creative requirement of storytelling side of the business, you’ll find this is art, pure and simple. Storytelling in 60 seconds is about tapping into a notion that is relevant and familiar in the minds of your target audience and delivering emotion and an experience that they will remember.
In “The Force” spot, the creative team tapped into the zeitgeist of “Star Wars,” which is one of the most recognizable and beloved storylines in history, as well as the innocence and naiveté of being a young boy, which at least half the audience will immediately understand. Of course, using a young boy immediately taps into the moms in the audience as well, so the spot cleverly taps into the mindset of a robust audience on both sides of the coin.
What’s great about that spot is it is 100% based on music and imagery; there is no talking! You have to watch it again to realize there’s a beautiful story being told, but no one is voicing it. This is storytelling of the highest degree, and there is a reason I point this out.
Everyone gets excited that online video is finally taking off, but that kind of storytelling can be applied to all sorts of online advertising, whether video or not. Imagery, music and creative storytelling can be applied to anything online, whether it’s a flash ad, a micro site, or anything else that you can dream up. If that’s the case, why are online ads so universally derided for not being effective?
My gut says it’s because we don’t give these ads the attention they deserve on the creative side of the business. Clients ask their creative resources to churn and burn, to create libraries of banners to run through billions and trillions of impressions, without asking creatives to dive a little deeper and find something that will resonate.
Clients should be tasking their creative resources to come up with something more inventive and innovative, telling a story that is relevant and can deliver emotion and an experience consumers will remember. After all, the “Force” video was watched almost 45 million times, and people still love it. No wear-out there!
Storytelling is the oldest form of communication in the history of the world, with stories having been passed down from generation to generation as a form of historical record. Advertising can be looked at in the same way. How many times have you looked at old ads, or seen artwork depicting old ads? Andy Warhol spent a portion of his career in pop art just stylizing advertising, so why shouldn’t the work we do today have the same gravitas as that? Why can’t someone look upon the online advertising of today and say, “Man, that stuff was good!”
In 2012, I hope that the creative fire gets lit and that we, as an industry, start to come up with ideas that will have impact. I know you have the skills and the desire; now it’s up to you to find the time.
And may the force be with you.