As video producers, MWP Digital Media is increasingly asked by our clients in briefing sessions to “make it risky”.
It’s always great news to hear that clients want to take creative risks – it’ll certainly get you more attention than playing it safe. Gone are the days of ‘demo’ advertising with dry, product focused videos. It’s now been fairly well accepted that if done right, emotionally driven advertising gives a brand a huge advantage.
But given the increasing number of television advertising that’s been pulled due to ‘offensive’ or ‘upsetting’ commercials, how edgy is too edgy?
The stakes are high
Storytelling takes a great deal of practice and research. Leaping into the genre is usually the root cause of getting it wrong. Marketers, keen to imitate the big TV commercials, don’t properly think through the connection with their own brand, or put time and energy into developing a story that rings true to their own customers experiences.
Smaller brands can afford to take slightly more risk. The spotlight usually isn’t so much on them, so if it flops they can try again, If it works, there can be huge viral potential. For bigger brands however, the stakes are much, much higher.
McDonald’s dead dad advert gets it wrong, Movistar ‘Love Story’ gets it right
For an example of a brand taking a huge risk – and getting it wrong – let’s take a look at the recent example of the McDonald’s dead dad advert from May 2017.
The commercial had a huge amount of push back from the public and was eventually pulled entirely.
There are lessons to be learned here, which we’ll explore in a moment.
But marketers shouldn’t take it as a sign that audiences are sick of emotional advertising. Emotion is still hugely effective, as shown by the shocking viral film for Spanish company Movistar:
Movistar’s risky success
Movistar’s ‘Love Story’ succeeds because it hits us in a deeper, more personal place than your standard fear-mongering Public Service Announcement. It takes time to establish a natural and believable character arc – establishing a sense of light comedy, which helps the twist from being too horrifying.
Unlike McDonalds, the darker tone is more acceptable because the product/client is directly tied into the theme. The campaign is aiming to raise awareness of fake profiles, and ends with a call to action for the cause, not the company.
McDonald’s dead dad advert failure
When we break down the failures that led to the McDonald’s dead dad commercial, it’s clear the problems originated in the early stages of concept development.
Firstly, the execution of the story arc. It’s a well-known advertising fact that emotive ads must leave an audience feeling better than they started. The advert can take viewers on an emotional roller-coaster ride with ups and downs, but in any case, the final stop should be considerably higher than the entry point.
The McDonald’s ad breaks this rule because it opens on a low (the boy’s dad is dead) and then takes us further down during most of the story (we gradually realise that the boy has nothing in common with his dad). The story then attempts to bring us up at the very end (we discover that the boy and his dad both liked Filet-o-Fish), but it is way too late. We are left feeling resolutely sad for the main character.
In comparison, the Movistar advert flips the formula on its head. The first act is all positive build, and with the inclusion of lighthearted comedy it allows the twist at the end to not leave audiences feeling worse than they started.
Properly integrating the story with the brand/product is also a problem for McDonald’s. When using storytelling in a video advert, the common choices are to tell the story of a consumer, a product experience or of a theme that’s associated with the company. Taking a completely fresh social theme, in this case bereavement, is very difficult territory.
Credibility and sensitivity
Brands do have a license to find relevance in social issues in advertising. But to do so with credibility and sensitivity, the ads have to serve as a genuine effort to raise awareness of the social themes.
Mastering the nuances of great emotional storytelling is not easy or straightforward. The most important element is the commitment to take creative risks and to put time and energy into creative planning. The Movistar Love Story advert shows that done right, risky, emotional story telling is definitely worth it.