Exploiting the medium to maximize engagement

After raving about The 21 Steps – the first episode (is that the right word?) of the We Tell Stories adventure, I have to say I was disappointed with Week 2’s offering – Slice. It was just too lightweight. The twin narrative wasn’t utilised effectively and the the Twitter feeds were essentially the same text as the blogs formatted differently. Following in real-time admittedly offered some excitement, but this was short-lived. 1 for 2 then, but I will continue to support the endeavour. Week 3 is released today.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I applaud Penguin and Six to Start for identifying the unique features of the medium, utilising its strengths and pushing the constraints. I wish more would do this. Or, if this is a common venture, I wish more people that do this were brought to my attention.

Two of my favourite books of all time are Watchmen by Alan Moore, and Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware. Not only are both superb stories (one revolutionary, the other heartbreaking) but they are also superbly told. Whether nuanced allusions, repeat motifs, parallel stories (sometimes in alternating panels), duplicated images, adjuncts outside of the strip format or dual narrative within the same pane, both writers (and artist) successfully explored the limits of their medium. In my opinion, this elevates two great stories to classics. Others agree.

I would like to see this creativity applied to television advertising. The best adverts circulated virally or collected online tend to be outdoor adverts making unique use of their environment. So what is the television environment? What are its strengths?

The strength most commonly identified with television is its centrality in many people’s lives. It offers national events and watercooler moments. Vast numbers tune in. And vast numbers talk about adverts. Traditionally, television adverts communicated rational benefits. So PG Tips spoke purely about the taste and how to maximise it. Then advertisers learned to tap into people’s emotions, and so the message changed from the product to the image.

And now we have reached a point where adverts don’t necessarily have anything to do with the products they are advertising.

Cadbury Gorilla

So the focus has moved from the message/catchphrase to the image, but not yet the medium. There have been some experiments – notably Match.com with their live advert, but none have caught the imagination. Yet.

My proposal may well be unoriginal, but I am unaware of any brand using it. The format has already proved itself successful in a different guise – board games.

In the right setting, it would work brilliantly. Thinkbox have plenty of research (this is but one example) that show the level of engagement and conversation that result from good advertising. The communal element of television is something that has yet to be fully capitalised upon. Interactivity will take this to the next level. It isn’t even very expensive – while I didn’t believe it when I was 8, Atmosfear is pre-recorded. By creating challenges and inviting the audience to participate, attention is gained. If there is a successful pay-off, it will generate those conversations the following day (or immediately online) and create that word-of-mouth supplement that helps make campaigns.

If an advertiser created enough different versions that went out during watercooler-moment, shared viewing television (whether FA Cup, Britain’s Got Talent or Big Brother) – and perhaps even publicised the times, it would create a sense of buzz and anticipation that is yet to accompany any advertising other than Superbowl spots (while the media world may look forward to the next Sony Bravia advert, I don’t think the general public are particularly bothered). And while I’m not an expert in cognitive psychology or behavioural science, I reckon the people that actively take part in an advert will be more likely to remember it than those that view passively.

I look forward to seeing the format being exploited in new ways. Whether it is an incorporated disruption to the messages in tiny font that whizz across insurance adverts or something more high concept, the opportunity is there.

Excellent creative execution is not inextricably linked to the message. The format – of which the message and the visual are but two constituents – is a rich body of characteristics that is still to be fully explored or exploited.

Are there any adverts in the UK or abroad that currently do this? If so, I’d love to hear about them.

sk

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