Posted by: Corina Paraschiv | April 17, 2009

Television Ads: the art of movie-making

The more I learn about the world of advertising and the more it seems to me like marketers are genius.  Take ads for instance.  Did you ever notice there were a dozen of different styles to sell you something?  If you’re like me you probably didn’t even notice.  But he fact of the matter is : just like for movies, there are different genres of films (horror, comedy, drama, documentary…), when it comes to television advertising, there are different creative execution styles as well.  Can you think of a few?  No worries, I will walk you through a couple : once you’ll know them, you’ll quickly see what an art it is when you look at an ad on your television screen — each of these styles has specific characteristics, just like movie genres, that make them ideal for one type of product category or another.  So let’s investigate.

Straight Sell/Factual Message

This style is the way advertising started in the first place.  Just for fun, I went back in time on youtube to find a very old advertisement for wine back in the 1940s, and I put it side by side so you can compare what the product would be sold as today. 

Now the first one as you can see was much more factual than the second.  It used a rational appeal, and it tried to literally convince you that the attributes of this Gallo Wine were superior to any other wine for a fraction of the price.  Nowdays, straight sells are mostly used in print advertising like in magazines, rather than TV – because really who would watch it when we are trying to be entertained by shows?  Nevertheless *sometimes* you do run across them in television ads too, and in both cases, most of the images focus on the object of the sale itself, and it’s used mainly for brand new technological products where the seller wants to disclose the features of the product to the viewer.  For this, he uses scientific or technical evidence, by quoting for instance results of laboratory experiments or endorsement of some agency or other.  Think of some toothpastes ads where they tell you it’s the only accreditated toothpaste by the Dentists Association, or of some facial cream which tells you it’s been clinically tested to reduce God knows what.  That kind of thing. 



Alright, you may say now, that makes sense — but what about the iPod, I never remember THEM doing any straight sell, they’re always so creative.  And you’re right – unlike many hi-tech companies, Apple, which has positioned itself as being in the entertainement industry, has always strived to make entertaining ads.  And while today iPod’s ads are a bunch of shadows grooving to the beat of funky music with wild colors in the background, the very first commercial had to face the same challenge as many new innovations: it had to sell its product while informing people about not only their personal brand but the entire product category.  After all, how were you going to buy an iPod if you didn’t even know what an MP3 player was?  Here came Apple, with a demonstration creative execution style.  Check it out – their very first commercial (ever!):



This is what many many brands do on television.  Coke vs Pepsi.  Degree Men deodorant vs Old Spice.  Apple vs PC.  Etc.  But most of them althought they certainly HINT at their competitors directly, often don’t name them.  You know why?  Because if Shout said “Shout: Better than TIDE” then for sure all the Tide users would discredit their message and not even pay attention.  However, if positioned against attributes, the way Bounty the paper towels has done, and you call it say “the quicker picker-upper” (and that’s been their tagline for over 40 years now!) then what you’re really saying is look at the superior performence of this.  No direct attack, no upset customers from competing brands… all the more people to tune into the message and who know, maybe even switch.



Sometimes, companies feel that if they have testimonials, they can seem more credible.  This includes both getting a satisfied customer to tell their story with the product and getting a form of endorsement by some professionally acredited group.  Neutrogena uses this style of commercial a lot for their ads:


Slice of Life

The Slice of life is one of the most popular ad styles today.  We’ve all seen it — with Listerine where the family comes out of hiding when the mom shows them the new mouthwash isn’t bad tasting anymore, or when the mom tries to get her kid to eat breakfast in the Rice Crispies ad.  Most of the products that use this appeal are packaged-goods products.  The goal of this approach is to show customers a scene they might be familiar with in their own life and how the productcan help them solve that issue.

Now I couldn’t find the original ads I was talking about on youtube for the Rice Krispies or the Listerine so I put another one, from Rice Krispies as well, and it comes from the UK.  A mom is asked how many Rice Krispies there are in a pack so she looks at the box and tells her kids it says there are 1 500$ of them.  So the kids decide to count them all one by one.

Marketers are always divided on using this type of comercial – for one thing, their ads, like the Listerine one, really comes off as exagerated, and furthermore, in cases like sensitive products they can irritate the customers who don’t need to be reminded that they had a problem (ex. body odour, bad breath, dandruff…).  But on the bright side, the customers could also relate extremely well to an ad that seems made just for them, presenting their very own issues in life, so it can be a good sell too.   Because it’s extremely important in this type of ad that the viewers can relate to the people in the ad, the companies often employ actual actors to come on the set and play the roles in the advertisement.  Because that’s fairly costly, you’ll notice next time you watch tv — it’s only big brands like Old El Paso and Listerine that can afford these kind of ads.



Something that is used a lot with cereals and toys for kids is animation, which was made possible by the increasingly easy to use technology to produce those.  Here’s a famous example: the three characters for Rice Krispies.  Until recently, this brand featured the animation characters into its ads.  It is very recently that they took on an approach like the one we saw below with slices of life.  So chances are this is probably what you’ll be remembering most of your childhood for these cereals!


Personality Symbol

You don’t need to have been around in the 80s to recognize what brand this ad is for — they still kept it!  In fact, many companies do this : Listerine with their fighting bottle, the Maytag employee who promptly sits by the phone and never gets a phone call… yes, Cool-Aid as you see here.  It’s an effective way for marketers to help you associate the brand with certain characteristics and to really consolidate their name in your mind.




Imagery is used in this ad – as a typical imagery ad, it focuses on the pictures, on the athmosphere, there are very little words.  The brand usually hope to transfer the characteristics of the characters portrayed or of the moods portrayed to their products.  They hope that you’ll identify with that lifestyle or those people, and that you’ll think if it makes them cool/good as sports, etc. then it can make me too.  These ads are aesthetically pleasant, like mini art works, and is used primarly for products where there is little differentiation with competitors on the market in terms of features of the product : liquors, soft drinks, designer clothing, cosmetics… in those industries, it’s aaaall about the image.. and the ad, all about the imagery! 



Dramatization is like a slice-of-life execution style but it’s more dramatic as the name says it.  The advertisers hope that you will get lost in the story as you watch it and feel empathy for the characters and friendliness for the brand, ultimately.  Now how convenient that Hallmark, who made this ad for their cards, also owns the sappy Hallmark television station full of nostalgic, touchy-feely videos? 



Well humor I don’t need to mention it — it is probably the type of ads you’ve been most used to.  If you’re Canadian you probably have seen this one which I personally found very funny.



So now you see it — the choices behind how to make an ad are not random, and all the ads you see on television were carefully crafted to fit the particular product and audience.  In the end, the art of advertising is almost like a movie-making art!

Qvod Erat Demonstrandum.


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