Commentary

A Twisted Story: The Power Of Unexpected Turns In Advertising

Little Red Riding Hood skipped down the wooded path with a basket for her grandmother and a “stranger danger” lesson for little boys and girls around the world. This infamous fable leverages the power of storytelling to reshape how children perceive their interactions with strangers.

Cloaking the facts in a forest — complete with a hooded protagonist and a sharp-toothed antagonist — allows the children to see themselves as Little Red herself, even as she is gobbled up in the end. For humans, both young and old, the facts are best internalized when wrapped inside a story. And the shocking twist at the end makes it especially memorable. 

Brands can use the power of storytelling to help consumers internalize the facts and shape their perceptions about the brand. Adding a twist to the story can amplify the experience with startling ease. Here’s how several Super Bowl LII advertisers masterfully employed this technique:

  1. Twist: False Premise 

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Tourism Australia’s Super Bowl ad creates a false premise by appearing to be a movie trailer. It sets the stage for an epic “Crocodile Dundee” adventure with actors Danny McBride and Chris Hemsworth. Facts about traveling in Australia are strategically interwoven with humorous cut-scenes, until the truth is finally revealed at the end. This is a tourism commercial for Australia, not a movie trailer. The twist shifts the consumer’s understanding of the movie adventure and reveals that the adventure could, in fact, become their own. The twist is effective because it hinges on the brand’s adventure message. 

  1. Twist: Mystery

Tide’s Super Bowl ad creates mystery by asking the viewer to figure out what the ad is for. The consumer plays along as actor David Harbour walks through the options: car ad, beer ad, razor ad? Once Harbour reveals that the clean clothes in each scene are the “smoking gun” for a Tide ad, the consumer learns to look for clean clothes in every subsequent ad. The twist is effective because it relies on the brand’s clean clothes message.   

  1. Twist: Slapstick

M&M’s Super Bowl ad demonstrates that a little slapstick can serve as an effective twist. The ad opens with the red M&M, who is so delicious that he is plagued by people always wanting to eat him. Although the red M&M is magically transformed into a human (Danny Devito), and no longer suffers from people’s chocolate cravings, he is hit by a bus and meets his ironic demise. The twist is effective because it depends on the brand’s delicious message to set up the irony of the slapstick moment.

In advertising, adding a well-crafted twist to the power of storytelling can help consumers internalize the brand message and shape their perceptions of the brand. The key is to base the twist on the brand message. Who knew “Little Red Riding Hood” could teach us so much?

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