Commentary

How Ads Can Leverage Verisimilitude

Roughly 102 million viewers made the Kansas City Chiefs’ come-from-behind victory over the San Francisco 49ers a generational milestone. The game earned its place in broadcast history as the 11th most-watched U.S. television event, trailing just nine previous Super Bowls and 1983’s "M*A*S*H" finale.

For firms willing to shell out $5.6 million for 30-second slots of Super Bowl LIV airtime, the stakes were quite staggering.

Inevitably, “going all in” has become obligatory. Nowadays viewers are accustomed to commercial breaks that are provocative or at least as entertaining as the game itself. Likewise, every Super Bowl telecast prompts me to reflect on my doctoral dissertation, which examined how verisimilitude and connectivity are elements of consumer persuasion in what I call "drama ads.”

Derived from the Latin, verisimilitude is “the appearance of being true or real.” If verisimilitude is achieved, then the viewer is willing to suspend disbelief and buy into the mini play. By design, a 30-second, 45-second or minute-long mini play or drama ad is not explicit about product use. Instead, it enables viewers to draw inferences and share their own conclusions about the brand.

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These novel mini-stories generally fall into two major categories: those that entertain and those that inspire. Regarding the former, Bud Light Seltzer’s #PostyBar and #PostyStore ads excelled among the Super Bowl 54 spots. The pair delivered story arc, memorable characters and emotion.

Both take the viewer inside the mind of musician/tattoo artist Post Malone’s character. In #PostyBar, Post orders a Mango Seltzer at a bar, and different parts of his body -- taste buds, stomach, and his spleen -- come to life as humorous and distinctive characters. They engage in frenetic teamwork inside Post to determine whether he likes the new seltzer flavors.

All the necessary verisimilitude guideposts stand out: actor traits (facial tattoos), actor interactions (gestures), dialogue (“Bud Light made a seltzer?”), delivery (e.g., dialect) and setting (location). These aspects are further relatable across demographics and age groups even though the star of the spot, Post, is less likely to be recognized outside of Generation Z.

This lends credence to the idea that a well-crafted drama spot can trump an ad rife with A-list celebrities. Yes, featuring a celebrity can be a shortcut of sorts to capture the viewer’s attention, but it does not guarantee that your brand essence comes across.

In terms of inspiring drama ads, think back to Audi's 2017 "Daughter" and its glimpse of the future -- about equal opportunity irrespective of one's gender as portrayed between a father and daughter. However, this commercial and other Super Bowl spots of late which aim to inspire, also risk being polarizing and negatively linked with social, even political, posturing.

Yet whether the intent is entertainment or inspiration, verisimilitude must be present. During the Super Bowl, brands must captivate at a minimum -- enough to spark ensuing conversation on social media.

1 comment about "How Ads Can Leverage Verisimilitude".
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  1. Jeffrey Hardy from FilmProfit, LLC, February 5, 2020 at 4:19 p.m.

    Yeah, but only, instead of verisimilitude, how about realitude, or, not the appearance of truth or reality, but reality? I know many marketing people just want their tricks to work without a care for how they get there, but how about authenticity, rather than just the trick or appearance of authenticity? Let's be real with one another, even in marketing. 

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