Too many adverts today are flat and uninteresting. Some instead have incredible impact, are easily remembered and often shared. Curiously, many in the advertising business are unaware that in most cases the latter have a precise element in common: a plot twist.
This element is pretty close to the roots of humour – but should be taken seriously. In fact, it could be worth a lot of money by helping make your ads much more impactful and memorable.
Consider a simple sentence: “Once I had multiple personalities, but now we are feeling well.” If this sentence makes you smile, it’s because from a first frame of reference (mental awareness) it jumps to a second one (mental insanity) in a sudden and surprising way.
When a similar principle is applied to advertising, the effects can be powerful. A recent example is given by the amusing Skittles ad that went out in Super Bowl 2017. A boy throws some Skittles against the glass of his girlfriend’s window at night, discreetly trying to attract her attention. (First frame of reference: Romance). A classic scene, and you would expect her to appear at the window.
But up inside the house, unmoved by her boyfriend calls, the girl swallows the candies as they land into the room, makes a satisfaction sound, then leaves the sofa spot to her mother, who does the same; her father, her grandma and other quite unexpected guests take turns to swallow the candies in the same funny way. (Second frame of reference: Gluttony).
The passage from the narrative plane of Romance to the narrative plane of Gluttony is a plot twist, and it’s where the amusement comes from. Why? Because the unexpected twist from one narrative plane to another, in language or in a story, is the main source of the emotion we usually call fun. What are the advantages of such an approach for Skittles? The following.
A plot twist is something people will notice. And, in the case of a funny ad, it’s something many web users will want to share. In this specific case, the Skittles ad quickly gained more than 9 million views on YouTube, which may be described as an impressive viral outcome.
A plot like this can make a brand stand out and be remembered among many others – for the same reasons we may remember a good joke much better than a dull, uneventful story.
What does the Skittles ad exactly say about the brand? It says that it’s ready to put an amusing spin to the stereotypical stories of teen love (which is an excellent way to capture the attention and approval of a demanding young generation). In a word, Skittles becomes cool.
Not trying to sell in any way and building a plot twist that borders on the absurd, the Skittles ad is also quite effective on the level of persuasion – meaning, in pushing people to buy the product (which is what, at the end of the day, any good advert is supposed to do).
Thus, if you are preparing to think about your next campaign, don’t miss the opportunity: start to build the story from an unpredictable, thrilling plot twist!