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?


  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


    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,

  4. Jeff on 02.21.2012


    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 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?