We Break Down What We Think Great Commercials Are Made Of
Commercials have always existed to do one thing: to sell.
But in today’s digitally-driven world, it’s become harder and harder to capture an increasingly selective audience’s attention. There’s no doubt about the fact that there is now a tangible barrier between advertisers and consumers when it comes to traditional advertising methods, and the question of how to engage that closed-off audience becomes more pertinent as consumers take ever-active steps to disengage from traditional forms of advertising as much as possible.
In fact, statistics from Pagefair have shown that in December 2016, over 600 million devices were running adblock software globally and it shows no signs of stopping. Add to that fact that there’s been a stronger shift to mobile globally and that ad-free media platforms (such as Netflix and Spotify) are thriving, and this leaves advertisers trying to reach out to a non-existent audience.
The Cannes Lions Jury’s book “The Art of Branded Entertainment” calls this phenomenon “The Void”. It is defined as “the absence of an audience caused by the loss of interest of consumers in advertising”.
So now we ask: how can we spark consumer interest in an environment of such apathy? The answer is branded entertainment.
What is branded entertainment?
Branded entertainment is a marketing strategy centered on creating original content that builds brand awareness by showcasing brand values as opposed to more common methods such as product placement or content marketing.
It focuses on a brand’s “why” and does so without costing consumers their time or amusement - two things that are big factors in driving any form of engagement. We’ll come back to the “why” later.
Undoubtedly people today don’t like to be directly told how to spend their time or what product to buy. That’s because a.) they know - or could research - what’s good for them, and b.) they don’t care to spend their time on something they might not want or need. Going back to “The Art of Branded Entertainment,” it’s mentioned that “people don’t want products pushed at them while their time is being taken away. However, one thing has not changed over time: they do like being entertained.”
Just think about media giants Nike, Apple, or even Dove. Not only do their content deliver when it comes to entertainment value, but they ensure that people know that the messages they’re sending and the values they’re showing are inextricably linked with their brand.
It’s clever. These brands engage their audiences in an emotional and intellectual level, thus spurring them into genuine discussion. Videos get shared. Brands and their products get mentioned.
And it doesn’t even matter that the brand itself may even take a back seat to the content at times, because that’s not what people will want to remember anyway. What matters are the stories, the lessons learned, the experiences shown… the resonance felt.
And those emotional responses are what will cascade into what brands are looking for at the end of the day. Sales. Loyalty. Recognition.
Undeniable products of simple stories told well.
It all comes back to the “why”
In the previous section we mentioned “focusing on a brand’s why”. For those unfamiliar with Simon Sinek’s work, the why is one’s answer to the questions: “what’s your cause?”
Or why do you do what you do?
What do you believe in?
Questions with undoubtedly rather difficult answers. So naturally, people avoid it, and instead gravitate towards other things that are easier to explain. Brands are just as susceptible to this as common folk are. Chances are they’ll be more comfortable discussing the features of their new product, perhaps, or the process underwent in making them. But nary answering the question as to why they even did it in the first place.
Of course, we’re not saying that explaining a product doesn’t work, but there’s a more optimal way. A more emotionally-centered approach.
Simon explains this through the use of his Golden Circle concept.
The idea behind it is that when explaining anything, commonplace brands usually start with the what. They explain, in simple terms, what they are. Perhaps they are a computer company. Or a bakery.
Then they move inward on to the how. Maybe they say something like “we’re the best computer company because all components are made in-house” or “we’re the best bakery because we use super-special mother dough.” Most brands will expect a response from their audience after this part, and if they don’t get it they simply drop the whole pitch and move on.
The mindset is that if this group of people are not interested in what we do and how we do it, then, whatever - we’ll find someone who is.
But those who understand their why start with that and move outward. It’s a great tactic for a brand to create distinction from other similar competitors. Only after they have explained their core purpose do they clarify how they achieve it in their own ways, and then what they do as a consequence of their will to enact their why.
By a simple reversal of how the information is disseminated, a more emotional response is gained. That, in turn, allows people to respond best because it taps into the part of their brain that controls emotions, behaviour, and most of all: decision-making.
Simon explains it using Apple as an example in the abridged* video below:
For those who can’t watch, here’s a breakdown.
Simon points out that if Apple were just like any other brand, they’d pitch their products like so:
WHAT: We make great computers.
HOW: They’re beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly.
Want to buy one? (Meh.)
Admittedly it’s a pitch that doesn’t inspire any sort of awe.
On the other hand, once Simon flips the approach and starts from the why, the pitch goes:
WHY: Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.
HOW: The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully-designed, simple to use, and user-friendly.
WHAT: We just happen to make great computers.
Want to buy one? (Yes.)
Incidentally, Steve Jobs of Apple fame also made a similar speech regarding marketing from the inside out. View it here:
The important takeaway here is that both videos have one underlying message: that understandable and clear value proposition is core to successful audience resonance.
Value propositions done right through entertaining videos
That marks our segway into talking about video commercials or branded video content.
Within it lies the art of showcasing value, and it’s more than just making something look pretty on screen.
And while we’ve tackled the current advertising climate, how to overcome it, and the secret to communicating within it, there are still other things to talk about now that we’re concentrating on propositioning value through the dynamic medium of video.
Let’s break down the biggest obstacles commercial video creators face with every project:
Audiences are varied, so tell a universal story!
Firstly, the audience. Regardless of where the video will show, any given audience will always be made up of fundamentally different people. Individuals who have had wildly varied life experiences, cultures, locations, etc., all of which contribute to the fact that each and every one of them will interpret the video differently.
Sometimes that disparity can even get in the way of their very understanding of it. Take Mcdonald’s’ brilliant “We Could” ad centered on their McCafe coffee.
While it may make perfect sense to most of us, those from another environment may be unfamiliar with the visual gags presented here.
For example, they may not know that the use of stock footage in commercials is a bit of a taboo, which is why it’s being playfully lambasted here.
Or they may not have had exposure to any sort coffee culture, so they won’t understand why it’s funny seeing a man so seriously fumble over coffee with lab paraphernalia.
Or they haven’t watched enough food commercials to know that slow-mo shots like these are what cliches are made of.
In short, the jokes are - for the lack of a better word - rather meta. But Mcdonald’s knows it can get away with it by virtue of the nature of their product and how they’ve positioned their brand as a “go-to place to eat” over the years.
A meaningful voice is crucial - have substance.
Secondly, knowing what an audience is looking for in a brand’s ad is just as important. A thoughtful voice is key to running a successful campaign that establishes value.
That is why most of the best commercials out there don’t tap into logic, but emotions. Because happiness, sadness, motivation - all of these are universally understood. In addition, doing so promotes resonance, and it creates that ever-sought-after humanizing link between the consumer and the brand.
This “humanization” is exemplified very clearly in Rimowa’s “Never Still” ad, for example:
The voice-over goes:
Mastery. Mastery is a moving target.
Yet there are those determined to chase it.
Those who aren’t defined by where they’ve gone. But where they have yet to go.
They travel to reach more than a destination.
They don’t just leave their comfort zones.
They don’t have them at all.
They believe that purpose and ambition demand resilient companions.
Because the meaningful journeys last longer than a trip.
They last a lifetime.
It’s a mildly encouraging but relatable thought about the pursuit of mastery and how movement is crucial in order to obtain it.
Look at the shots of the video that accompanies it as well:
The name of the game here is subtlety. The product is showcased but never in a forceful manner; all this then comes together to artistically and perfectly tie in the concept of personal growth and travel with Rimowa, which is a luggage manufacturer.
The cohesion of visual, auditory, and expository themes here cannot be ignored because of how well it was executed. So...
Present with a distinct style.
This brings us to our final point: the last obstacle video makers have to consider come in the form of having a “style”. Not just in terms of visuals either, but overall feel.
Of course, not all commercials are made the same. Some brands may lend themselves to certain genres better. But at the end of the day the video must not be plainly informative or an unimaginative showcase of the brand. It has to be intrinsically interesting in every sense of the word.
Commercials shouldn’t aim to simply capture reality, but represent it. Embellish it, even, to a point where audiences can associate that version of reality with a brand.
A good example of this would be Adidas’ Your Future is Not Mine.
View it here:
Both the visuals and the audio come together to convey one precise message: that the youth hold their futures in their own hands.
Notice how the visuals are shot. The actors are:
1. Filmed moving forward in every shot, implying progression.
2. Filmed as individuals, distinct by their choice of clothing.
3. Filmed moving towards something better. See how the visuals of a more vibrant environment juxtaposes over the “normal” one.
All this while the music plays, going “I’m never gonna fall in line, your future is not mine.”
So in conclusion: the secret to a great commercial is to showcase value entertainingly
Couple that with an easily understood story, a substantial voice, and stylistic presentation and you’ve got the groundwork for something great.