The elements of a good TV ad? Don’t forget about balance (updated)

UPDATED, Feb 24, 2012, scroll to the bottom. Let’s pretend I was an art director, and was getting ready to produce a TV ad, what are some of the variables that would be running through my mind? Let’s see: director, casting, location, wardrobe, lighting, cinematography, special effects, camera angles, acting, props, shooting board, editing, pack shot…what else?

It occurs to me that an important element, not usually discussed in most of the of the pre-production meetings I’ve been around, is the notion of narrative balance. I just totally made this term up, by the way. But I would define narrative balance as:

“the relative weighting that each element of the commercial needs to have within the whole to make sure the ad communicates with the biggest possible impact and recall.”

Said otherwise: how do you organize all the elements and scenes within your few seconds to make sure people’s attention is grabbed by your message, and to make sure they remember the brand that was involved?

What got me thinking of this? Well, my friend Michele shared with me this Christmas ad from John Lewis, a British retailer. Have a look

It has been going around for about a week, and everyone pretty much loves it. They find it very emotional, they love the Morrisey song, it takes them back to that moment in their youth, etc. Big success. Now, I’m usually a sucker for these types of ads, but it didn’t work for me.

Why? To me this ad didn’t have narrative balance. It was such a grand and lovely buildup of 85 seconds that by the time the “reveal” came out in the last 5 seconds…I pretty much was expecting it to be the cure for cancer AND the end of world hunger. So I felt a little…let down. Kind of like the final season of Lost! The ad is completely unbalanced…so the grand payoff can never satisfy properly! You see, I think this ad would have worked much better as a 30 second ad. You could have still had the key buildup moments (the scene where he gulps down his peas and runs upstairs is magic!), and then the payoff would have had its due weighting in the ad, instead of being hidden in the last 10th percentile.

Have a look now at this ad for Father’s day from Oreo in the US (I was actually involved with this one when I worked at DFCB NY)

What do you think? I think that the creative device is fairly similar: “wait…wait…wait…ok now go!” yet this one just holds together so better for me. The payoff is linked to the product, and it has its proper narrative weighting within the 30 seconds of the ad. It’s a much more powerful little bundle of emotion and meaning!

So what is my diagnosis? Sometimes we get too carried away with the beauty of the story we’re weaving, and the footage we’re shooting, and when it comes to the editing room we don’t want to let anything go. But for the sake of communicating properly, let’s make sure the brand, the benefit, the payoff all have their due place – too much of this and not enough of that…and the whole thing goes off-kilter. Balance is important!

Thoughts? Any creatives out there that can explain this better to me? I’m just going to go ahead and interpret silence as “full and complete agreement, with some admiration thrown in”. Otherwise, let me know below.

Thanks for reading!

UPDATE, Feb 24, 2012

I came across this ad and thought it was worth sharing as a further example. Have a look at it first:

WTF, right? The buildup is great. Super atmospheric…couldn’t quite tell if it was horror, or suspense, or romantic comedy, or what…the tension builds…the intrigue builds…something bad is going to go down…or maybe something funny…

…and then when the reveal comes, it’s like a balloon deflating. Not because it doesn’t make sense, or it doesn’t tie back to what was being said before (a common pitfall, but not in this case)…it’s just that from an “emotional tone” perspective, you had me at 95% for the entire commercial…and data storage as the big answer is just never going to above 40% for me, baby! The tonal leap is so big that the whole thing unravels, it becomes a parody of itself. Conclusion: you’re as strong as your weakest link, the whole package has to hold together.

1 thought on “The elements of a good TV ad? Don’t forget about balance (updated)

  1. Pingback: Superbowl ads 2012 – the full Adboardingpass review (part 1 of 2) | adboardingpass

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s