It’s been a while since we posted our last blog, and we’re trying to put out as much helpful content as possible but believe me when I say that we’ve had a totally manic week. Between night shoots, grabbing B-roll and editing, we’ve barely had time to sleep! Anyway, whining aside, today I want to address something that comes up a lot in our work lives and that’s the formula for a great commercial. People see commercials on T.V. and think, ‘that was great! But I’ll never be able to get that, it would cost a fortune!’ And you may well be right. But I want to address here is the idea that money doesn’t always mean a great commercial. It certainly helps, but there are so many other elements that go towards making a great commercial.
Whilst this does come up quite often for us, I really got thinking about this after watching a great advert on TV. This particular commercial was one for Dulux paint. It wasn’t really a product that I would find especially interesting, but for some reason it really resonated with me. As I thought about it, I started to pick it apart and really think about what made it so good, and these are the things that I could think of.
First and foremost, the thing that is bound to be the most effective device for your commercial is going to be your narrative. In my opinion, commercials shouldn’t be approached like promotional videos, and they definitely shouldn’t be a generic infomercial filled with facts and figures. No, for me, a decent commercial has to have a simple, relatable and interesting narrative in order to be effective.
Now when I say narrative, I don’t mean an epic. You don’t have that much time in order to get your message across. What I mean is an underlying theme that ties together what your audience is seeing on screen. When you see a commercial for Nike or Adidas, you don’t often hear them saying ‘These shoes help me play sports better’ they usually take a more subtle approach. They usually follow an athlete so that we can see his relationship with Nike rather than have them tell us.
For me, a subtle and simple concept is the best way to say whatever it is that you want to say. People aren’t dumb, just because you don’t talk directly about your product in the first five seconds, that doesn’t mean that, your audience wont be picking up on your message.
Well, this one seems obvious right? Yes, it is obvious, but you would be surprised to find out just how many people overlook this part of the production process. This kind of ties into the idea mentioned above, but you don’t need to be shoving your product in someones face. In my experience, people respond well to an image that is well lit, with good composition and adheres to good cinematography practices. Yes, your product is important, but having something that is visually stunning says something about your company as well.
Showing that you’ve put time and effort into your commercial implies that you put time and effort into what you do. High production values not only give the impression that you’re doing very well, but also that you have an interest in protecting your brand. It may sound silly, but people really do pick up on this and put it this way, have you ever seen a cruddy looking Apple commercial?
If you’re looking to make a commercial then I would highly recommend looking for a great cinematographer to shoot it. If you happen to be shooting a commercial, don’t scrimp on the planning! Treat commercials like films and make sure that they look good!
When I talk about sound here, I’m not just talking about a voiceover; I’m talking about sound as a whole. What I find with all of my favourite commercials is that they use sound very effectively, be it voiceover, diegetic sound or music. What pulls me out of a commercial is music that simply doesn’t fit the visuals or brand. As with films, music in commercials is used as indicator of how the audience is supposed to feel. When you see a commercial for something like match.com, you don’t have thumping drum & bass. No, you have something soft, something that speaks to the romantic nature of the service. Unless the point is to confuse your audience, then you want complete cohesion between your music and what’s going on, on screen.
Now, as I said earlier sound covers a whole bunch of different things and the next thing that I really want to talk about is voiceover. Personally, I’m a sucker for a good voiceover and I like to use them a lot in my own projects. Because they’re so dear to my heart, there’s nothing that puts me off a commercial more than a poorly scripted voiceover. For me, the cardinal sin is bluntness. As with everything else in this blog, you should be aiming for simplicity and subtlety. I would rather hear a story with a slightly less obvious connection to the product than hear a list of reasons why I should buy it.
Naturally, you also should be looking for technically good sound, but that seems like a given as it’s relatively common knowledge what a deal breaker sound is.
This is one of the less obvious factors for a successful commercial but I wholeheartedly believe that consistency is key to a successful commercial. This means that you need to release content that matches up to all of your other commercials. The Dulux commercial that I mentioned earlier really nails this. They had another commercial last year that was set in a prohibition era where colour was illegal. In 2015 they’ve taken the same theme and set it in the future instead. Both were great commercials on their own, but together they become part of a really solid brand and video marketing campaign.
Above all else, make sure that all of your content matches up. More than anything else, your brand is key. Make sure that you’re representing it in a way that is appropriate and really sells it.
Have a look at some of the high-end commercials on TV and I don’t doubt that you’ll notice these key elements. They don’t guarantee success, but I would strongly recommend that you consider them when planning your commercial project and this advice is applicable to filmmakers, brands and businesses. Put it this way, you could have a massive budget, but if you don’t have the above elements in place then chances are it won’t be a hit. Conversely, if you have these things in place, then you’re more likely to be able to produce a great commercial.