This month marks the 60th anniversary of Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. It’s also the festival that every video producing marketing agency hopes to be recognized by. Cannes Lions is to commercials what the “regular” Cannes Film Festival is to, well, films. Only the best commercials get recognized. But are the “best” commercials really the most effective?
Based on my nearly 25 years of business experience, combined with over two decades of being a filmmaker, this is my humble opinion about what makes a commercial effective. Whether you’re creating multi-million dollar ad campaigns, or are creating a 30 second spot to air on the local cable channel, these are 4 key attributes you should keep in mind when creating your commercial (substitute “commercial” with “video” if that’s more applicable to your business).
The Spot is Memorable. When you consider that the average person gets thousands of messages a day for products and services, the commercial needs to really stand out and make a lasting impression. It should cause people to talk about it around the water cooler the next day (wait, do people even talk around water coolers any more? Let’s change that to, “make them tweet about it or post it on Facebook.”)
The Brand is Memorable. This is one area that many clever commercials fall short. They spend a lot of time entertaining you, but barely show the brand. You remember the commercial, but you can’t remember the product. (Without cheating, can you name the brand advertised in the “Paul Harvey: God Made a Farmer” video that came out at the Super Bowl earlier this year?)
Creates Affinity for the Brand. After watching the commercial, the viewer (either consciously or subconsciously) gains affinity for the brand. Perhaps the commercial uses a song, or an emotional moment to connect the viewer. Or maybe they use a celebrity personality to lend credibility.
Ties the “Punchline” or “Gimmick” to the Benefit. For my money, the best ads are the ones that can tie the punchline or the “gimmick” of the commercial to the benefit of the product. In other words, a feature of the product is the very thing used to make the ad funny or memorable.
Here are examples of classic commercials which I think score high marks in all of these areas.
“Where’s the Beef” (1984)
I think this ad scores high marks in all four categories. It’s memorable: 29 years later, “where’s the beef?” is part of our lexicon. The brand, Wendy’s, is memorable. The little old ladies create affinity for the brand. And the punchline (the littlest old lady crying “Where’s the beef”) is directly tied to the benefit: Wendy’s hamburgers have more beef.
I’m a Mac. I’m a PC
There is no doubt the “I’m a Mac. I’m a PC” series has been one of the most successful in history. I can’t tell you how many spoofs of it I’ve seen. So we know it scores high on the memorability scale. Same for the remembering the brand and creating affinity for it (while at the same time poking fun at the competitor). And in every one, the benefit of the Mac is specifically tied to what makes them funny.
Here are 15 “I’m a Mac” ads in one video
Got Milk? (1994)
Another brilliant ad, mostly because of it’s simplicity. One of the great things I love about this ad is that in 60 seconds, with just visuals, it tells such a great story–a man obsessed with an insignificant subject matter, and the one time in his life where it may actually matter that he knows this obscure bit of trivia, he misses out on the opportunity because he didn’t have any milk. The story is so good, I frankly find it hard to believe it was directed by Michael Bay.
BMW’s “The Hire” Web Series (2001-2002)
This is kind of a cheat because this series was not a traditional commercial. But, this groundbreaking web series starring Clive Owen was most definitely meant to sell BMWs. Everything about it scores high in all four categories, particularly #4. The power, speed, precision, handling, and look of the BMW are all illustrated in the series.
This episode directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu was one of the most visually interesting.
Rest assured, when the fighting Mighty 8th is making your video or commercial, we’re keeping all 4 of these essential points in mind.