TV Ads: Lessons for a Writer
My father’s career was in television advertising. I’m sure he’s looking down at me, shaking his head. How did I miss how much I can learn about writing from television commercials? For a person who didn’t get to watch much television for years, I’m making up for lost time. I can’t say I’m sorry to have missed most of the ads on TV over the years, but occasionally I happen upon a gem that delivers a lesson to me as a writer. A successful commercial reaches the viewer on a human level. It makes the viewer feel something. That’s exactly what I’m looking to do to/for my readers, so I’ve become a student of them. Here are a few of my favorite recent commercials. The Cheese Guy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqF3LeZ7fJA): This Whole Foods ad features a geeky looking guy with glasses who hesitantly approaches a cheese monger at the counter. “I hear you have a degree in cheese,” he says. The chubby cheese monger in a skull cap replies with a smile, “I do. I went to cheese school.” Our geek shrugs, smiles a toothy grin, and admits, “I’d like to go to cheese school.” In fifteen seconds, I am in love with the geek, and rooting for him to go to cheese school. What has happened in such a short time for me to connect with this person my head knows is an actor? I have fallen for his vulnerability, his willingness to let me know what it is he wants. Because when we admit what we want, we have given power over us. And when we write about characters who are vulnerable, our readers become their cheerleaders. The Queen of the Night( https://www.ispot.tv/ad/dy2Q/2019-volvo-xc-range-you) : So it’s a Volvo commercial that’s the first ear worm I’ve ever wanted to play endlessly. The voice is that of soprano Emily M. Cheung of the Vancouver Chamber Choir singing a piece from the aria the “Queen of the Night.” I’ve owned a Volvo and it was okay, but I have no interest in turning in my beloved Subaru for one. What was it about the vocals from this ad that I couldn’t shake? It sent me soaring. The sound of this woman’s voice reaches inside of me and sets me flying to another dimension where I hear the sound of hope. I know the piece is from a rather dismal opera by Mozart, but that isn’t the point. this commercial is that I am transplanted from folding laundry on my couch into a place I can’t see. But I can feel it. And that is exactly what I want to do for my readers. Kars 4 Kids (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8UV7SAhvG4): I hate to knock an ad for a charity, but someone has aptly described this as the best ever ad for birth control. It features an annoying jingle that people have suggested could be used as a torture technique. This is the ear worm you do not want. The ad has kids dressed as rock and roll musicians playing fake instruments. There is nothing cute about the kids or the song. Watch John Oliver lose his sh*t over the commercial if you don’t believe me. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8UV7SAhvG4) What can I learn about writing from a commercial that makes me want to fling my pricey iPhone into the middle of my fancy flat screen television? Do not annoy the reader folks. Just don’t.