MK 354 Spring 2010

February 8, 2010

Michael Bay, Super Bowl Prove Disappointing

Filed under: blog #2 — Tags: , , — pmitch1 @ 2:49 am

Originally, I held off on writing this post because I had hoped that the Super Bowl would be filled with humorous, unexpected advertisements-I was wrong.  Apparently, slapstick comedy is on the rise because literally half the commercials aired last Sunday involved some kind of physical violence, usually and old woman getting tackled.  Sure, it’s funny to see an old lady get hit by a football player or win a boxing match against Mike Tyson but at this point, it’s almost become a cop-out.  If you have to rely on the gimmick of “the old woman” to be funny, you’re basically pulling a Michael Bay: “I guess I could try to work in some more character development so viewers actually care what’s happening to the people on screen or I could develop the plot so that the viewers are still interested even when things aren’t blowing up… Nah, I’ll just toss in some more explosions and special effects, it’ll look so cool.”  These kinds of spots, like Michael Bay movies, have little substance and therefore the average viewer will not even recall what was being advertised, let alone go out of their way to purchase it.

Ironically, it’s kind of a cop-out to make fun of Michael Bay, he’s a pretty easy target.

This is the kind of problem that many “unexpected” advertisements run in to.  While it may be funny to see 300-pound silverback gorilla roundhouse kick a midget, what could such a thing possibly have to do with buying a Hyundai or eating Doritos?  These kinds of commercials are entertaining in their own right, but that doesn’t make them successful pieces of advertising.  Yes the commercial is unexpected, but does its surprise make sense within the context of what the spot is advertising?  According to Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the book Made to Stick, in order to create an effective unexpected message you must identify the central message, find what is counterintuitive about that message, and then break your audience’s guessing machines along that counterintuitive dimension (p.72). The following ad for Avista Language School is aligned with these ideas and is a good example of an effective message that uses unexpectedness.

Unlike many commercials that use random, over-the-top surprises for shock value, this commercial’s surprise is actually relevant to the product.  The fact that the fish uses another “language” to avoid danger highlights the core of the message; learning another language is useful.  The advertisement proves to be unexpected not just because a barking fish is surprising, but also because it introduces the idea of safety as an impetus for learning a new language.  The average person on the street doesn’t think,” I should learn Spanish because it may save my life one day,” although it is a very real possibility.  While the viewer may have speculated that the fish would not be eaten, few could have guessed it would produce a vicious bark to save itself.  Because this is so unexpected, it breaks the audience’s guessing machine. The fish’s unanticipated use of another language suggests that there are many unforeseen benefits to being multi-lingual.


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