Before you read this post, watch this commercial. This fascinating, unusual, beautiful story is an example of the power of emotion, symbolism, identification, and composition in the art of storytelling.
What makes this commercial so compelling?
I’d like to break it down… reverse engineer it, using the mechanism of the the Story Map.
I’ve recreated the story map in the diagram below. Each “box” on the story map reflects a set of concerns that you should consider when creating a visual story. In this post, I will move through the story map, discussing the elements that would appear in each box if I were the team that developed this advertisement.
What is the content that the authors considered when creating this commercial? Somewhere, they had heard of a story of these men, motorcycling around Taiwan, reliving a past memory on the death of their friend. Did they have the footage? Probably not. Odds are, they heard about the story long after it was complete. So the film was created well after the event itself. But more interesting: this is a bank putting together an advertisement.
WHY advertise at all? Obvious answer: to get customers. But not just any customers. The advertisement is clearly aimed at older adults. Here is where we first touch on WHO: People with frailties, friends, family, and loss… but older adults also have something that banks care a great deal about: money. If you are going to create an advertisement to get older adults to view your bank in a positive light, you have to appeal to that audience. So the WHY box would be filled with “Appeal to older customers because they have resources that we wish to manage. They are profitable, loyal, and stable.”
WHAT should the advertisement include? What gets you customers: Here’s where the bank took their daring approach. They decided to do something radical. In an age where advertisements are easily skipped on your DVR, and where people are immune to the long list of “features” that your company offers, the bank decided that the WHAT category would not include the typical “we have a better product” message. The WHAT box would say “To tell an appealing story reflecting our understanding of the trials, needs, hopes, and aspirations of older adults.”
HOW is difficult. How do you appeal to older adults? You cannot just throw junk out there. They decided to tell a story of friends that makes people not only watch the commercial but share it with their friends. How will they appeal to their audience? By showing that they care about humanity. At a time when banks are viewed as evil, cold, heartless, greedy, and borderline criminal institutions, this bank decided to say “we are human.”
WHAT IF the customer ignores the ad, and does nothing? There is very little compelling evidence in this commercial. No pitch to fear or benefit. Only story. For that reason, this is an interesting ad, but not a typical one. Most advertisements focus rather substantially on the What If category. Is this what makes the ad different, and therefore noticeable? Perhaps.
We touched on WHO already: the advertisement aims at older adults, but with its universal messages of love, loyalty, hope, freedom, and self determination, it appeals to everyone. Hard to beat that.
DECISION STYLES: This is important. What do the elements of this advertisement tell you about the decision styles of the audience. Do older adults care about numbers? Financial returns? Stability? Age of the institution? Perhaps. But the ad contains none of that. The advertisement is seeking to find those older adults who make decisions in a different way: based on identification. While this doesn’t include every member of the target audience, it does include people who many not be the subject of many other appeals: people who choose their business partners on the basis of how they answer this question: do you understand me and my needs? The audience for this commercial are people who can identify with the story, and believe that a bank that is willing to tell that story is a bank that understands their needs. That is very powerful.
STRUCTURE: the structure of the story is very linear. At the funeral of a friend, a group of old men decide to take a tribute ride to their youth, and relive a memory that they all treasure. The way it was told, with bits of flashback, was compelling and beautifully composed. But the structure itself is quite simple: A death makes a group of friends question themselves, and they decide to do something truly beautiful to honor themselves and their friends. In doing so, we hope they gain a measure of closure and relive some of the excitement that brought them together in the first place.
CHARACTERS: what makes these men compelling? Is it that they seem so normal, so human? We learn facts about them. Their average age. Their ailments. How long it took for them to prepare for their journey. These facts are incredibly important to building the sense of identification. It is so much easier to identify with someone if you share their problems. Perhaps your have attended the funeral of a friend. Perhaps you have arthritis, cancer, heart disease. Perhaps you will die soon. If so, you are us, and we hear you.
SENSE OF URGENCY: The characters are not only old… they are dying. There could be nothing more urgent than a story told from the standpoint of “one final chance… for perhaps today is our last day on Earth.” Beautiful.
DELIVERY PLAN: The commercial was clearly designed for television, but you can see how tie-ins could be used for radio, print, and even posters in the bank itself. The delivery plan is clearly a traditional marketing approach, but there may be elements not in evidence in the ad. That said, the advertisement on Youtube is of high quality. It is entirely possible that the bank, or ad agency, put it up there and even promoted it on the Internet.
DESIGN: the visual design of this story, as noted above, is compelling. Flashback, use of black and white to indicate “past” with color to indicate “present.” The slamming of the hand, the tossing of the medicine, the dusty garage with a half-hidden motorcycle. The final ride to view a sunset, as though to indicate the sunset of their lives. The elements in this design were beautiful and brilliantly composed.
TEST: As with all traditional marketing, it is highly likely that there were many versions of this ad produced and then test-marketed with focus groups. Unfortunately, we cannot tell much about those alternatives, or the process of testing the ad, from this one result. This is one of the limitations of reverse engineering… we just don’t know.