The “Zapruder” technique in advertising. A powerful shortcut to your gut!

As most of you will know, the Zapruder film is a hand-held film footage of the Kennedy assassination which, once shown to the public in 1975, became ingrained in the mind of everyone who was exposed to it. For those old enough, a whole slew of memories come flooding back at the very sight of these seconds of silent 8mm film.

Why do I bring up this sad piece of history? Because it reminds me of how certain historical images, footage and even sounds have such high emotional content that they act as time machines, bringing us back, immersing us, grabbing our attention. Many of them are sad (JFK), some are proud (man on the moon), and others are downright uplifting (fall of the Berlin wall, big national sporting wins, etc.) If we are seeking to touch people emotionally, these are a very powerful and effective shortcut to the place where emotion lies.

Now, it’s easy to decide to use these “shortcuts to the id”. It’s what you do when you get there that counts. Here are two different examples that I think work well in different ways. Both use sports memories as their flashback.

Peru: Bringing you in…and flipping it on its head – This was going to be an “Ad of the Day”, but there was more that needed to be said so it became the springboard for the whole post.

Now, to instantly get this example, you need to be a Peruvian male over 30, ok?

If you happen not to be…then know that Peru is a small but passionate soccer country. Their appearance in the 1978 world cup was the highlight of their history, and the very apex was a lovely free-kick goal in a victory against Scotland by “Nene” Cubillas. Watch the goal below carefully.

Remember, this is branded onto the brain of Peruvians. This is the most important goal in their history. Now watch the ad below: it was created at the government’s behest in response to a recent wave of violence which resulted in a death in a Peruvian stadium. It features the national hero Nene Cubillas reliving this historic moment, and it’s in Spanish, so for a version with subtitles click here.

Isn’t that just awesome? They tap into the emotion, they take you to that place. You’ve seen it 1,000 times before and know how it’s going to play out and are filling your lungs with pride…and then they switch it on you! History is changed! And it’s done to deliver a very powerful anti-violence message. Fantastic!

Argentina – an uncannily faithful recreation of a great moment – Back to soccer (I wrote earlier that sports were a powerful force in tapping emotions, didn’t I?) All Argentines remember Maradona’s second goal against England in the 86 world cup. It’s said by many (including myself) to be the greatest goal ever. If you need a refresher, have a look at it below. (an aside: below is also one of the best narrations of a goal you’ll ever hear)

Now watch this Coke ad. It’s in Spanish, but here’s the gist of it: Kid in the blue shirt gets into a pick-up game. Someone makes a hard foul and a guy goes “cool it, this is not the world cup here, we’re playing for a Coke”. “We’re playing for a Coke?” thinks our blue shirted hero…and then…

I loved everything about this ad from the first moment I saw it. Already the color of the shirt and the way he was dressed (short shorts!) made me think something was up. But then, from the very first dribble in mid-field on second 26 (seen in the still above), I knew exactly what this was about. It’s indelibly burned into my brain. The whole thing was fantastically executed. And thus, in one quick second, a tv borrows a treasure trove of good feeling from all consumers, and rides it out into a well delivered, feel-good message about coke. Seems simply in retrospect, but the magic is in the doing!

In summary, this so-called “Zapruder technique” (I just made that up, but the way, it’s not a real term!) is something that I think is a tremendously powerful shortcut into the world of emotions.

I’m surprised we don’t see it more often, because the rewards are tempting. But then again, this is not easy to pull off:

  1. You have to select the right shortcut. (The JFK one is probably not a good one…)
  2. You have to execute it properly to trigger the emotional shortcut.
  3. And most importantly, it’s what you do when you get there that counts: your brand and its message must be credibly and inextricably linked to the emotion and the moment you tapped into.

Creatives, who is up for it? I want to see more of this!

Readers, who can share a better example than the ones above?

I look forward to hearing from you, and as always, thank you for reading!