By John Gilstrap
Efficiency is key in writing fiction. In this contexts, efficiency means getting in and out of scenes at just the right time to keep the story moving along. It means using the right amount of dialogue to communicate just the right message.
I think there are lessons to be learned along these lines from television commercials—not all of them, of course, but from some of the good ones. I’m particularly partial to television ads that are less focused on selling a product than on selling an image. Product-oriented oriented ads can certainly be effective—I’m thinking of the new Mac vs PC ads, for example—but as effective as they are, I don’t see a lot of story.
I’m talking about commercials like the famous Mean Joe Green Coca-Cola ad from twenty years ago. A hobbled football player makes his way down the tunnel on his way to the training room when a little boy offers him a coke to make him feel better. In the reaction, there’s a moment when the boy’s feelings are hurt, but then he’s richly rewarded. Great ad.
I also love the old Folger’s Coffee ad where the college kid arrives in the wee hours to a home that is fabulously decorated for Christmas. The house is completely still, completely perfect. He puts on a pot of coffee and the family awakens.
Then there are the ones who choke me up every time. Anheuser Busch is among the best of the best. Remember the ad about soldiers arriving home to the applause they should receive every time?
I was in a bar in Vail, Colorado for the Super Bowl in 2002 when Anheuser Busch’s “Tribute” ad brought complete silence. The entire team of Clydesdales bows to the newly-mangled New York skyline. It still gives me a chill and brings a lump to my throat.
Think about what storytelling really is: It’s about making an emotional connection with your audience and driving it home. I think these examples do exactly that. How about you? Any favorite ads that tell a good story?