OK, before you do any­thing else, watch this all the way through:

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Now, regard­less of which side of this issue you are on, put that aside for now. If you don’t you’ll never see the per­sua­sive art at work in the film.

So what tech­niques ARE at work in the film?

Well, the grand strat­egy is to get you emo­tion­ally involved in the story of the fea­tured man’s rela­tion­ship — pre­sum­ably with a woman who’s “first per­son shooter” per­spec­tive you’re watch­ing in the video.

In fact, the cre­ators of this video want you to not only be drawn into the nar­ra­tive arc of their story, but to be “root­ing” for the cou­ple.  So how do they do that?

1) Use of First Per­son Shooter Per­spec­tive & Nar­ra­tive Misdirection

When­ever fic­tion writ­ers need to write a sus­pense novel or mys­tery, they usu­ally write from a Third Per­son Lim­ited per­spec­tive, mean­ing the reader sees the world through the eyes of the main char­ac­ter and is privy to that one character’s thoughts, but every other char­ac­ter is only ever pre­sented exter­nally, as seen through the eyes of the main character.

This per­spec­tive allows close iden­ti­fi­ca­tion between the reader and the main char­ac­ter.  It also allows the author to lead the reader in one direc­tion, and then yank the car­pet out from under their feet for a “big reveal.”  We see Harry Potter’s world through the eyes of Harry Pot­ter, and are sur­prised to find Quir­rell, and not Snape, as the bad guy at the end of Sorcerer’s Stone.

Sounds kind of like the video, doesn’t it?

Of course it does. In the video, you see every­thing from the per­spec­tive of the “girl” being flirted with, dated by, and romanced by “Paul.” And you fre­quently expe­ri­ence you and Paul’s co-participating in activ­i­ties with other het­ero cou­ples.  Lead­ing you to believe that Paul is also involved in a het­ero couple.

This sets the stage. This tech­nique allows the video to get you to think about the cou­ple absent any other pre­con­cep­tions you might have. They have to get you to like and root for the cou­ple BEFORE the big reveal.

So step 1 is First Per­son Shooter Per­spec­tive com­bined with Nar­ra­tive Misdirection.

2) Use of “Char­ac­ter Root­ing Techniques”

Screen­writ­ing gurus will tell you that you can’t assume the audi­ence will like and root for your main char­ac­ter — you have to bake in scenes designed to GET the audi­ence to like and root for your char­ac­ter. The late Blake Sny­der called this “sav­ing the cat” and thought it was impor­tant enough to name his first screen­writ­ing book, Save the Cat.

And the corol­lary to sav­ing the cat? Squash­ing the cat. You either have the hero per­form some kind or heroic act, or you have the char­ac­ter suf­fer some kind of unde­served mis­for­tune. Dis­ney redeems the thiev­ing Aladin in the eyes of the audi­ence by hav­ing him give his stolen food to street urchins. He saves the cat. Cin­derella loses her mom, and gets abused by her step­mom. She suf­fers unde­served misfortune.

So what does this film do?

  • It starts out with play­ful, “meet cute” flirt­ing. Every adult has had this expe­ri­ence and most peo­ple reflect back on the fear and emo­tional charge of such a moment, mean­ing that you almost can’t help but want suc­cess (how­ever you define it) for the peo­ple involved.
  • Lot’s more “Like me” moments. Play­ing on the beach, meet­ing par­ents, argu­ing over direc­tions, and lots of other sim­i­lar scenes that most view­ers can instantly iden­tify with.
  • Play­ful­ness. Most of the scenes show “Paul” act­ing play­ful and fun. This is very human and makes the cou­ple instantly likeable.
  • Unde­served mis­for­tune. Paul’s mom is intro­duced ear­lier in one of those “like me moments” that define the nar­ra­tive arc of the rela­tion­ship.  So when Paul’s mom dies, we can’t help but ache for him. And to appre­ci­ate the rela­tion­ship that helps him get through that death.

So we get lots of Char­ac­ter Root­ing Inter­est moments packed into this 2 minute video. All set­ting up max­i­mum emo­tional punch for the big reveal.

What the Heck Does this Have to Do with Advertising?

If these fic­tion writ­ing tech­niques can get you to like and root for a cou­ple in spite of a highly-charged polit­i­cally divi­sive issue, do you think they could work to get you to iden­tify with and like a brand?

Sure they could. Sim­i­lar tech­niques worked for Tony the Tiger, the Jolly Green Giant, Bar­tles & Jaymes, and “I’m a Mac.” And they can be put to work for you, too, even if you’re not a huge multi­na­tional. Here’s an exam­ple cre­ated by my part­ner, Roy Williams, for a local HVAC client:

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And here’s another one:

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So, do you think that after watch­ing a series of these ads, you might start lik­ing and root­ing for Mr. Jenk­ins and Bobby?

Well, whether you do or not, the ads are increas­ing sales. So somebody’s root­ing for Mr. Jenk­ins. Actu­ally, a whole lot of somebodies.

What are you doing to get peo­ple to root for YOUR business?

Comments

  1. Bill Laidlaw on 02.10.2012

    I am not sure who would ever root for Mr. Jenk­ins Jeff (In fact I think it is more likely he would be spoofed on Sat­ur­day Night Live) but he would cer­tainly be first in my mind next time I had a HVAC break­down and that’s a good thing.

  2. Jeff on 02.10.2012

    Bill,

    Yeah, I’d agree that “root­ing for” is per­haps the wrong term in this sit­u­a­tion, while “Like­able” is a lot closer to the mark. You watch those com­mer­cials and you like Mr. Jenk­ins because he is kind (to Bobby) and com­mit­ted to serv­ing the cus­tomer. In other words, he “saves the cat.”

    As for the SNL satire, I think the ads are already humor­ous skits, and that’s kind of the point: the get you to watch and pull you into the world of these char­ac­ters, while mak­ing you like them.

    - Jeff

  3. Mike Slover on 02.21.2012

    Jeff, what do you think would hap­pen if you ran a radio ad in any mar­ket telling the pub­lic that the owner was gay? My guess is that the every­one in that mar­ket would say, “wow, that guys gay” they would have an emo­tional opin­ion of the busi­ness owner good or bad. I believe this per­cep­tion can be built to make the pub­lic fall in love with the busi­ness owner before they ever need the prod­uct or ser­vice.
    Thanks for shar­ing,
    Mike

  4. Jeff on 02.21.2012

    Mike,

    I rather doubt it, and wouldn’t rec­om­mend it. That said, quite obvi­ously a lot depends on the mar­ket, the type of busi­ness, the way in which the ad said what you’re propos­ing, and so on. Here’s how you might go about think­ing this over:

    You’re deal­ing with at least two things:

    1) Ethos / Audi­ence Expec­ta­tion
    2) Emo­tional Con­nec­tion to the Audience

    For Ethos, it boils down to what the audi­ence expects a per­son in a given busi­ness to be like. For bet­ter or worse, stereo­types exist and we expect brick lay­ers to look and act dif­fer­ently than judges. For me, this was cap­tured mem­o­rably in the old TV show Cheers.

    At one point on the show, it was revealed that Norm actu­ally had incred­i­bly good taste in inte­rior dec­o­rat­ing — he was a nat­ural at the bor­der­line idiot-savant/genius level. He’d always tried to hide it, but gave it a go when Fraser Crane con­vinced him it would be a lucra­tive career. Unfor­tu­nately, the yup­pie cou­ple who wanted to hire Norm almost rejected him because, well, he didn’t fit their pre­con­cep­tion of what an inte­rior dec­o­ra­tor should be. As Fraser put it, they were yup­pies who wanted their cars to be Ger­man, their wine to be French, and their inte­rior dec­o­ra­tors to be gay.

    So with a lot of money on the line, and Norm being Norm, he faked a lisp and told the cou­ple that he had pro­grammed him­self to dream about their “space” the night before. Hor­ri­ble abuse of stereo­types, yes, but a good exam­ple of Ethos at work.

    So what kind of busi­ness are we talk­ing about? You might have an eas­ier time if the indus­try is per­ceived as more “gay friendly” than “butch.”

    Now you’re talk­ing about emo­tional con­nec­tion. A woman busi­ness owner in a tra­di­tion­ally male busi­ness can play the gen­der card as a form of emo­tional con­nec­tion. And I say that with­out judge­ment one way or another. All I mean is that a woman car dealer can go on the radio pro­claim­ing her unique iden­tity and try to con­nect with women buy­ers based on that shared con­nec­tion. Same thing with minor­ity own­ers, dis­abled own­ers, etc.

    But the con­nec­tion has to be SHARED. If you’re a gay busi­ness owner attempt­ing to forge shared con­nec­tion with mem­bers of a small rural com­mu­nity in the Bible Belt, you’ll likely find few peo­ple shar­ing that con­nec­tion or iden­tity. If you do it in Key West, well that would likely be dif­fer­ent. Again, I’m trad­ing on a bunch of stereo­types here, not because I con­done them, but because per­cep­tions mat­ter when it comes to adver­tis­ing and per­sua­sion and stereo­types fac­tor into the equation.

    So the ques­tions you need to ask your­self are:

    1) Am I help­ing or hurt­ing the ethos of the client with this “announce­ment”?
    2) What kind of shared emo­tional con­nec­tion will I be able to forge based on this?

    If you have a town where there is a siz­able LBGT pop­u­la­tion, you might come out a win­ner. If not, you might want to give it a sec­ond thought, at least in terms of adver­tis­ing. If they client wants to do it for other rea­sons, than make sure he knows what he can expect from a mar­ket­ing per­spec­tive and let him make his choice.

    - Jeff

  5. Mike Slover on 02.22.2012

    opps, sorry Jeff I was unclear. I meant to show the power of the media; if I ran an ad announc­ing the owner was gay the whole mar­ket would be talk­ing because of the ad and their per­cep­tion would be affected, we prob­a­bly would only need to run one ad (if our goal was to announce the owner was gay).

    The same power could be har­nessed with a lik­able char­ac­ter, the impact of the emo­tion would prob­a­bly be less (than announc­ing some­one is gay) but with longevity the char­ac­ter would begin to gain mass appeal, kind of like Canada’s Hug­gable Used Car Dealer, all based around the fact that we buy from who we like, know, trust and feel best about.

    I’m work­ing with a guy that’s try­ing to lever­age the fact that he’s a Vet­eran, he’s got this great story of what he did while serv­ing but he keeps want­ing to say “Sup­port A Vet­eran” I keep telling him that alone will never work.

    ps Loved the Cheers story, I used to watch that show religiously.

    Mike
    Mike Slover´s last blog post ..Work In Progress

  6. Jeff on 02.23.2012

    OK. That makes a bit more sense. Just real­ize the “gay” announce­ment is trad­ing on shock, whereas an extended cam­paign is trad­ing on famil­iar­ity and emo­tional con­nec­tion, etc.

    As for the Vet­eran thing, it’s impor­tant to make being a vet­eran about more than just being a vet­eran. In other words, “sup­port a vet­eran” just aint going to cut it (IMHO).

    Per­fect exam­ple of this: the ads for Puggi from Chicago. Puggi was a vet­eran — a Sup­ply Sergeant or such in Viet­nam that every­one called “Puggi” and who was known as the guy to go to for what­ever it was you needed. A Sergeant who took care of his guys like they were fam­ily. The ads par­layed that iden­tity into a car dealer who could get you the deal you really wanted — he was the guy to go to — and who would treat you like family.

    See how the ad cam­paign made being a vet­eran about more than just being a vet­eran or sup­port­ing a veteran?

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