What Were They Thinking?

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Being a storyteller and working in advertising has its advantages. Each feeds the other to a degree. Storytelling is often about selling an idea. And some of the most memorable ads ever created were those that told a compelling story. So, that may be why a few of the “stories” told during last night’s Super Bowl commercials left me scratching my head.

Not every ad has to tell a story. Sometimes the funniest, most memorable ads are irreverent (though I’m often challenged to remember what those ads were for). But, if you’ve got an ad that’s supposed to tell a story, that story has to make sense. Beginning, middle, end. Compelling message that’s pulled through in the last act. Tough to do in a 60 second spot, but some ads pulled it off. I mean, the Budweiser dog being saved by the horses? It’s such a gimmick! But, it’s a gimmick that works. Dog gets lost, dog struggles to find his way back home, dog is saved by his friends at the last minute, friends reunite, and we live happily ever after. It’s simple, effective storytelling.

And then we had the Nissan commercial. Dad races cars (Nissan’s specifically), so Dad’s never home, and Mom and son watch his races, and the kid gets in trouble (I think) as he grows up, and then he’s leaving school and Dad’s there to pick him up in his new Nissan and… that’s it? And, as if that wasn’t poor storytelling in general, you’ve got Harry Chapin’s depressingly ominous Cats in the Cradle playing in the background the whole time. I was so absolutely confused by the message of this ad. Absentee parenting is absolved by the kind of car you drive? For the life of me, I couldn’t resolve the story or the message. Did it stick with me? Yes, but for the wrong reasons.

By now, you’ve probably heard of the Nationwide commercial, even if you didn’t watch the Super Bowl. The spot starts out whimsically, with a child talking about all of the things he’ll “never get to do.” Ride a bike, get cooties (animated into fuzzy little creatures), learn to fly, etc. Each “I’ll never…” gets progressively more dream-like and we’re feeling bad for this little boy because he has all of these ambitions and dreams that he’s probably just too small to realize. And then comes the sucker punch. the little boy looks into the camera and explains why “he’ll never.” “I couldn’t grow up because I died from an accident.” then the camera cuts to an overflowing bathtub, and open cabinet under a sink, and a toppled flat screen TV, with the phrase “The number one cause of childhood deaths is preventable accidents.” Uhhhhh…. what?! My son, who sometimes has issues separating reality from fiction (he walks along the edge of Asperger’s), happened to be watching that commercial. “Wait… did that boy die?” he said. I was stunned. I had no idea how to explain a commercial I was still having a hard time processing. “It’s not real, Buddy. It’s fiction.” “Oh.” The message? Maybe it was to counter Allstate’s “accidents happen,” but it felt more like “stop letting your kids die in accidents!” Yikes. Sorry, Nationwide, but you started telling a fantasy and ended with horror/tragedy. That’s not a crossover anyone wants to see.

Oh, and then there was that dancing cartoon foot with a fungal infection. Um… no. Just… no.

Did you watch the game? Did you have a favorite commercial? One that left you scratching your head? Let us know in the comments and thanks for stopping by! 🙂

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