Advertisers have been producing montage-style commercials for decades. Ads that are scenes with different people, of different settings, or at different times, edited together in a way that conveys a brand’s message to consumers. Though this format has been around for a while, it remains one of the most challenging to execute in a way that breaks through.
Montage spots have characteristics that make it inherently more difficult to get viewers’ attention. Changes between settings or time periods can lead viewers to disengage. Shifting among various characters can make it more difficult for viewers to relate to an ad compared to following a single character’s journey. Even simple transitions can falsely cue an end to a story and cause viewers to disengage with a spot.
So should advertisers toss all that film of happy babies out with their titular bathwater and stop using this format altogether? Not necessarily. Some communication objectives are a great fit with the montage style, such as increasing brand equity, demonstrating multiple benefits from a single feature or product, or being relatable to a varied audience. If the montage format is the best for your communication objectives, here are different ways to help your ad break through.
Have a great soundtrack
Impactful music is a great way to draw audience attention. This Life cereal ad uses Flo Rida’s “That’s What I Like” as the backdrop for various family-fun-with-children scenes.
The upbeat, familiar music, combined with repeated focus on the product, help this spot get viewers’ attention and communicate the brand. However, great music does not compensate for all shortcomings. The rapid cuts, tilted angles, and the different families (some who appear multiple times, some who don’t) can be confusing to viewers and may counteract the soundtrack’s impact.
Cue the unifying theme early
Sometimes montage spots will withhold key information until the end of an ad in order to increase the impact of a surprise reveal. However, this also increases the risk that viewers will lose interest before the reveal occurs. Surprise endings seldom work if viewers completely disengage by the middle of the ad.
Cueing a category or theme early in a spot can create a context for viewers and maintain their interest until a full reveal at the end. And the cue can be very subtle. In this ad from Glade, the second shot shows a woman taking in the pleasant scents around her. As the woman inhales, mirror neurons will engage, generating a virtual olfactory sensation for most viewers. This gives the audience the context for the rest of the commercial: they are not seeing different places, they are experiencing different scents.
If you have an ad that progresses across numerous images and characters, finding a type of image that can be repeated throughout the spot can give viewers a reference point to return to as the ad progresses. These repeated images become visual anchors that will stand out to viewers and can be used to shepherd viewers through a story told in montage.
This spot by Jeep shows various people singing along with the Cat Stevens’ classic, “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out,” interspersed with scenes of Jeeps. The early appearance of the bumper and the Jeep in split screen become visual anchors. When similar images appear at the end of the story, viewers are more likely to notice them and get the main point of the ad
Be unpredictable from the start
Many advertisers save their surprises until the end of a spot. But opening an ad unpredictably is a great way to draw viewers into a montage spot.
The voiceover in this classic Xfinity spot contradicts, rather than mirrors, what’s on screen. The ad draws viewers in because viewers are not hearing what they expect to hear based on what they see.
The montage style ad has certain characteristics that make it a more challenging format, but that’s no reason to abandon it if this style is the best fit for your goals. When you have tools for facing those challenges head-on, your montage ads can break through and drive your message home.