I saw an Acura ad tonight that left me rivited.
Frankly, I’m not sure it’s all that great an ad in the bigger picture, but the editing and storytelling was genius.
Some may think I’m overstating my case on this, but no less a genius than Stanley Kubric claimed that the very best film editing was being done in commercials way back in a 1987 Rolling Stone interview. Check it out [italics are interviewer, normal font is Kubric, bolding is me]:
Books I’ve read on you seem to suggest that you consider editing the most important aspect of the filmmaker’s art.
There are three equal things: the writing, slogging through the actual shooting and the editing.
You’ve quoted Pudovkin to the effect that editing is the only original and unique art form in film.
I think so. Everything else comes from something else. Writing, of course, is writing, acting comes from the theater, and cinematography comes from photography. Editing is unique to film. You can see something from different points of view almost simuluneously, and it creates a new experience.
Pudovkin gives an example: You see a guy hanging a picture on the wall. Suddenly you see his feet slip; you see the chair move; you see his hand go down and the picture fall off the wall. In that split second, a guy falls off a chair, and you see it in a way that you could not see it any other way except through editing.
TV commercials have figured that out. Leave content out of it, and some of the most spectacular examples of film art are in the best TV commercials.
Give me an example.
The Michelob commercials. I’m a pro football fan, and I have videotapes of the games sent over to me, commercials and all. Last year Michelob did a series, just impressions of people having a good time —
The big city at night —
And the editing, the photography, was some of the most brilliant work I’ve ever seen. Forget what they’re doing — selling beer — and it’s visual poetry. Incredible eight-frame cuts. And you realize that in thirty seconds they’ve created an impression of something rather complex. If you could ever tell a story, something with some content, using that kind of visual poetry, you could handle vastly more complex and subtle material.
People spend millions of dollars and months’ worth of work on those thirty seconds.
So it’s a bit impractical. And I suppose there’s really nothing that would substitute for the great dramatic moment, fully played out. Still…
After reading this I tracked down those Michelob commercials to see for myself, and of course Kubric was right:
Kubric was right about the billiance of the editing, but also in the limitations of these commercials, as they are the epitomy of style without substance being used to sell style and fashion (i.e., products without substance). There is a hint of a storyline in these ads, but it’s left very intentionally vague, impressionistic, and, well, fashionable. And that’s OK for beer, I guess, but probably not what you want for cars, though I don’t think those ads did anything for Michelob sales, either.
What you need for more substantive products like cars is a style that keeps the “visual poetry,” but harnesses it to tell a “story with content.”
Which is precisely what is so brilliant about this Acura Ad:
Same visual poetry, but now it’s in the form of a cohent narrative that shows the passion behind the substantive efforts to make a substantive product: a performance-oriented luxury car.
Will this ad sell some freaking cars? I don’t know. But it should at least generate some interest. And maybe make you feel something for Acura you might not have ever felt before.
And that’s no small thing.
But forget about Acura, let’s talk about you!
Because I predict we’re going to be seeing more of this form of intense, rapid-fire visual poetry going forward. This Cirque Du Soleil-esque form of rapid distraction.
Sure, we’ll still pay attention to the well done, dramatic monologue. And sometimes it’s better to zig when others zag, like Dodge did a few Superbowl’s back.
But intelligently harnessing the power of rapid-distraction storytelling is becoming more and more common in mainstream advertising. And it’s not limited to just big national brands either. Frankly, I think the only thing stopping radio advertisisers from doing it is skill. Heck, it’s already been done once.
So what are you waiting for?
Do you know how to tell a story in rapdi-fire format?