Grant McCracken and Bob Scarpelli
Take a look at this recent AT&T ad. Notice what the actress does at the 16:00 – 17:00 second mark. That little thing she does with her hand and her eyes.
Here’s a second ad for AT&T from a couple of years ago. Watch what happens at the very end when the neighborhood woman sends a glance to the neighborhood kid.
Here’s an ad for Volvo. Listen to what the little girls says.
We know ads are designed to deliver information, the USP, the product proposition, the value claim. And we can see the bones of these things in a lot of ads, especially in those agonizingly bad ones that are really just someone reading the Unique Selling Proposition.
“This product is good because [insert USP here]. You will like it. You should buy it.”
But I have long suspected that the informational mechanics and the persuasive objectives of an ad don’t work without the little details we’ve just been looking at. The little details, the flicker of the hand, the flash of the eyebrow, the little girl chattering on and on. These are essential to the ad’s ability to make the sale. I think. Maybe.
But how? They are so little. So minor. So easy to miss. It’s a question that has rattled around in my head for a couple of years. How do tiny details make the ad?
And today, I sat down beside Bob Scarpelli, on a flight from NYC to Chicago. I know Bob courtesy of Rick Boyko who was kind enough to put us both on Sparkstarters, his enterprise designed to help clients or agencies rekindle their powers of creativity.
Bob and I fell into conversation. He is one of those guys who is really easy to talk to. I was busy gabbing about myself when it occurred to me that I really should ask him about what he was working on. (I do this with great reluctance and some resentment but then I am an anthropologist and really it’s my job to ask people about their lives.)
It turns out that Bob is teaching a course with John Greening at Northwestern’s Medill School called Brand Content in the Social World (aka “What’s the Big Idea?”) Bob and John spend a lot of time talking about advertising and creativity.
“Great!,” I thought, “someone who might know the answer to the question ‘Why do small gestures matter so much?’”
And hey presto, he did.
“Oh, I call those ‘Magic Moments.’”
And Bob recounted the story of Joe Pytka on the set of an ad yell at his actors, “Stop acting! Just be yourselves.” No magic moments come from acting. Whatever they are, they feel like life.
Bob described a Budweiser ad that shows soldiers in an airport and the people who gather to applaud them.
There is a lot to like about this ad, but Bob says that the “magic moment” comes at the very end when one of the soldiers looks back a little disbelievingly at what just happened. That is many things about America in the blink of an eye, the beat of a heart. So magic moments are also revelational, suddenly revelational. The tiny detail delivers a world of meaning.
Bob said that the magic moment is almost impossible to plan. It is very hard to tell at the moment that strategy and creativity are being formed what the magic moment could be or should be. Virtually impossible in fact.
You know it when it happens and in some cases not even then. You have to wait for editing. And there it is. A gift from the gods of creativity, spontaneity and the perfect telling detail.
You could call this a chasm problem. (I borrow the term from Geoffrey Moore’s book Crossing the Chasm.) On the one side, we can have the creativity and strategy, all the work performed by researchers, planners, strategists and creatives of every kind. And on the other we have the spot which, if the gods of advertising are kind. is blessed with one of these magic moments.
But we can’t see the connection between the two. We can’t figure out how things get from the left side to the right side.
So there are two mysteries. The first is how to make a magic moment. The second is how the magic moment does what it does. How does it activate all the planning, strategy and creativity? Something arcs across the chasm. We just don’t know what it is or how it works. How do these “hemispheres” talk to one another.
So things are a little clearer. I now know what to call that telling detail, but I can’t say exactly what is, where it came from or how it works. So there is some work to do. Your comments, please.
More to come. Watch this space.