OPINION: Good lines from an ad can keep a brand alive forever

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

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

of film.

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

comes up.

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

Tarantino film.

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.


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