The Super Bowl advertising from this year was full of topical themes and images that should have, in theory, appealed to audiences. Yet much of this expensive advertising was condemned as dull, too tech-focused and repetitive. How much of it will be remembered next year – and, more importantly, at the supermarket?
What exactly went wrong? Partly, it can be blamed on the rise of data. As marketers, we now have a world of data at our fingertips, which can give us relevancy and reach. But we shouldn’t forget that while data can make a message relevant, it can’t make it memorable.
The key is to use data at the right time to reach the right person with the right proposition. But we must also trigger emotions to spark a long-term memory.
No matter how far we push for progress, one thing will always stay constant – our need to be moved. We humans are, and always will be, emotional creatures. Those in the business of building brands must push to find a solution that isn’t only rooted in rational choices, but in emotional triggers as well.
So how, as advertisers, can we spark this? To me, there are three clear elements to induce an emotional reaction: images, music and story.
To get inspiration, we shall look at examples from the world of arts and culture.
More than just a pretty picture
A single, powerful image can be all it takes to move us – think of Jack Nicholson strapped down to a bed in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Or, in an example from a recent ad campaign, Nike’s use of Colin Kaepernick.
Breaking it down, colours, lines and the use of light are all important. Van Gogh went out of his way to create tension in his paintings by positioning clashing colours right next to each other. In cinema, colour has the ability to drive the plot and influence how we feel – think of how Quentin Tarantino uses it in Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill, or the image of Emma Stone’s yellow dress in La La Land.
Leonardo da Vinci used lines to create tension in his work by manipulating the viewer’s expectations. Similarly, the cinematic work of Stanley Kubrick combines perfect precision with wild strangeness, creating tension between wonder and terror. Everything is so perfect that we’re afraid something bad is about to happen.
Caravaggio plays with the contrast between light and dark. In his paintings, the dark background creates a sense of intimacy, while the main stage is illuminated like a theatre.
For advertisers, there is no such thing as being "too visual". As Sir Ridley Scott, the great film and ad director, once said: "I’m not making a bloody radio play, I’m making a movie."
The magic of sound
If images are important, so is the music. Take the classic Volkswagen ad "Milky way" from 1999, in which both the music (Pink Moon by Nick Drake) and visuals have a cinematic quality, contributing to its enduring impact.
Music is so much more than wallpaper – and good music in an ad sticks with you forever. Who can forget the pairings of Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight with Cadbury’s "Gorilla", Enya’s Only Time in Volvo’s "Epic split" or the techno Flat Beat to Levi’s "Flat Eric"?
Who doesn’t love a good tale?
The final element is building the emotional story. Crafting characters is key – the audience should be able to identify and relate to them (although not necessarily like them). When screenwriters create an initial emotional bond, we begin to understand how characters behave as they do. From Hamlet to Tony Soprano, audiences are prepared to invest in complex characters, even though they recognise their flaws.
Next, we need to create tension, identifying the opposing forces that drive the story. And don’t forget to leave the viewer with a memorable ending that provokes a strong feeling, either happy or sad. Who doesn’t recall the iconic ending to The Graduate (and the Simon & Garfunkel track that accompanied it)?
Stories keep us invested and make the ad a memorable one. The success of Netflix and the current popularity of movie "series" with several episodes, such as the Marvel films, underlines that consumers like it when they know what emotion to expect – whether the film will make you laugh or cry.
Not against data, but against misusing it
Data is opening up new opportunities for us to reach the audience with a truly relevant message, at the right time, in the right place. But all brands will eventually have the same information.
We now have the glorious prospect of identifying what consumers care about and delivering an accurate solution in every touchpoint they have with the brand. But that’s not enough. We must strive to move and delight them during these interactions, now more than ever, by using our strongest asset – our creative heart.
If we rely solely on algorithms to create preference and lead to purchase, then not only will it fail, but it will also lead to a very rational and frankly boring world.
Bruno Bertelli is global chief creative officer at Publicis Worldwide