Great visuals are impressive in ads, but what really makes them
memorable is the dialogue. Rob Janowski argues for the return of
commercials that have a script
Forget the Internet for a moment. Have you overheard a conversation on a
train or in a checkout queue recently?
It’s a fascinating reminder of how people interact without the aid of a
modem. They use a device located under their nose and two funny-shaped
things attached to the side of their heads.
A lot of these information transfers take the form of ‘so he says’ and
‘I goes’ format where the teller re-enacts the event using different
voice inflections and facial gestures.
And what do most people do to relax? From the success of EastEnders,
Coronation Street and Brookside, it appears they like nothing more than
to watch actors moving their mouths. So if dialogue is such a powerful
and popular form of communication, why is there less and less of it in
Are the demands of pan-European advertising totally to blame for all
this glossy semaphore? Or have we just forgotten how to do it?
Collett Dickenson Pearce in its heyday was the master of the genre. I
can still remember a Parker pen ad with Penelope Keith at a finishing
school. ‘How do you spell penth mith?’ lisps one of the pupils. ‘I don’t
think you have to worry about that Lucinda,’ Miss Keith smiles
The name of the pupil is probably wrong, but then I haven’t seen the ad
for well over a decade. You can probably replay similiar scenarios in
your head from other commercials - water in Majorca? Luton Airport? Ads
like this go way beyond high unprompted awareness and actually etch
themselves on the brain.
It appears that the human memory has a capacity to store good dialogue
far longer than a montage of surrealist shots or a wonderfully lit piece
Obviously, I’m not suggesting that the look of an ad is unimportant.
Viewers are critical consumers of images, especially if images are all
you have to offer.
For instance, if special effects aren’t up to Hollywood blockbuster
standards they will chuckle knowingly. However, you could light
EastEnders with a 40 Watt bulb and millions wouldn’t care because they
are more interested in the characters and storyline.
There’s no doubt that production values in ads have never been higher.
The list of exciting new commercials directors grows daily. The trouble
is, a lot of them obviously weren’t keen on the Jazz Singer when they
were at film school.
It would be nice to see the odd talking picture now and again instead of
just subtitles. Maybe it’s time writers challenged the old saying that
‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.
Today’s ads usually contain a thousand pictures for every word and all
the pictures have been seen before, either at the cinema or at obscure
art houses, where advertising creatives can devour images instead of
popcorn and dream of regurgitating them when the next petfood commercial
Any visual style can be recycled for commercial use if you throw enough
money at it. Dialogue, by its very nature, is personal and inextricably
bound with a certain brand or individual.
That’s why its easier to rip off the Mask than a Woody Allen or a
Going into Mystic Meg mode for a moment, I predict that right now,
somewhere in a Soho basement, the first Toy Story clone is being
produced. After weeks of painstaking texture rendering no doubt it will
look flawless, the movements slicker than a barrel-full of slugs.
It will be interesting to see if the same amount of care and skill has
gone into the script and characterisations. I hope so. Because without
good dialogue even the most powerful computer in the world won’t bring
it to life.