Are you ready for a micro-film festival? I’m talking about the Super Bowl.
Yes, I’m actually saying that commercials are like micro-movies, and the Super Bowl is their annual film festival.
Of course, not all ads are movie-like. Some are just there to pique interest in a product and associate some emotion with it, or to impart some information about a product in an interesting way. But some of the most memorable certainly seem to qualify as micro-movies. Heck, they have more plot than a lot of the Independence Day blockbusters.
Let’s take a look at three of the best from previous years, and see if you can guess the ad from the story synopsis.
But first, a short refresher on plot.
Most movies (not all, at least not in my opinion, but most) have three acts. It can be broken down into the rising action, climax, resolution – though lots of people call the acts by different names, and may break them at different places. But the upshot is that a question, problem, or situation is described, then the main character sets out to address whatever is laid out in the first act, then we see the results.
Story ads take a bit of a shortcut. First of all, some of the ads have the viewer as the main character. They tell you that you, the viewer, have a problem. Alternatively, they may show you a sympathetic, or unsympathetic, character that you can relate to, and show their problem.
Then they tell you how to address that problem or situation.
And, like many movies, they leave the resolution implied, or only partially resolved (for example, Inception didn’t fully resolve the plot, or at least didn’t resolve it explicitly).
A young kid meets his hero, and struggles to break through his hero’s impatient and gruff facade. How can he connect? The ad:
Usually rated as one of the top Super Bowl commercials of all time, watching it now it seems a little cheesy. But it’s a great example of the three act structure at work in a micro-format.
The problem: Mean Joe Greene is injured, and heading to the locker room. He’s plainly irritated, disgusted, and tired. A young kid just wants to interact with his hero, who doesn’t have time for him. The whole setup takes less than 10 seconds of the 1 minute commercial.
The climactic action: The fan tries to get the player’s attention several different ways, and finally decides that what his hero needs is something to make him feel better. He offers his drink, a Coke.
Resolution: It works! And, the fan is rewarded with a jersey. The resolution takes 17 seconds.
A couple on a road trip meets a stranger. Is he trustworthy? The ad:
The situation: A couple driving on a dark, lonely road, apparently lost (the passenger is looking at a map). They see a hitchhiker. Should they pick him up? He has Bud Light, and an axe. 4 seconds out of 30.
The climactic action: They stop, the driver asks about the axe, and is satisfied by the nonsensical and clearly improvised answer, because the hitchhiker has a Bud Light. But the resolution gets delayed – they see another hitchhiker, who has Bud Light, and a chainsaw.
Resolution: back to the beginning, the problem is whether to pick him up. But the punchline is: even the guy with the axe is afraid to pick up the hitchhiker with the chainsaw. 5 seconds.
Three men rush to return an animal to its natural habitat. Will they make it, and how did the animal get there? The ad:
This one is interesting because it’s almost told as a frame story – the situation and the climactic action coincide, and we find out how the situation came about at the end.
The situation and climactic action: Three men drive furiously to a pier with a killer whale in their truck. They are determined to rescue it, but how did it get there? Will they succeed? 11 seconds.
The resolution: They pause at the beginning of the pier, then gun toward the end. At the last moment, the driver slams on the brakes and slides into a U-turn, throwing the whale over the edge into the water. Part 1 of the question is answered. The whale will live! Part 2 of the question, “How did they end up with a whale in their truck?” is answered in the final line.
“Now that,” the driver says, “was a bachelor’s party.”
There you go. Am I reaching on this? Can you look at some ads as micro-movies? What do you think?