This is not the cooking channel.
I’m not a fan of predictability. I don’t know many who are fans. In fact, predictable equals boring in my world. I can’t watch a murder mystery with my mother because she has it solved before the murder is committed. That’s not the experience I want. I want to be pleasantly surprised. Even taken aback. I appreciate that which is somewhat out of character. I like things to be unexpected. Those are the best outcomes. And I am certain this Notion Locomotive runs contrary to the standard business world.
If you like to know how a movie will end, before you watch it, you may not be comfortable with the cubicle in which my brain is presently parked.
In the advertising world, the one from which you are bombarded with 5000-plus messages a day (I’d apologize, but it’s a living), we play around with a little thing called Broca. It’s the area of the human brain that anticipates and ignores the predictable.
Sidebar Quickie: I know someone who would argue, possibly quite successfully, that men have a more developed Broca area than women because we are able to tune out predictable messages like, “You left the toilet seat up again!” – and so forth.
In the process of delivering advertising messages – be that audible, visual, or neither – the latter being a long stare into the eyes completed with a “blink blink” (ask me something truly ridiculous and that will be my response) – we strive to create a message that will hold your attention beyond your natural urge to change the channel, continue with your conversation, or pay attention to the road. Fell free to offer the “blink blink” for the latter. While it may be absurd to read, I have, in the past, worked with clients who couldn’t care less if you crash, as long as their message compels you to buy their product after you finish your post-accident interview and sign off on the police report. (Do we sign off on police reports, or is that just fiction on the instruction box in the living room?)
Broca comes into play when we creatives secure a client who is capable of thinking outside the box, and allows us to use word combinations and/or phrases that defy predictability.
Without going into the whole Wikiscience of it all (yawn), I consider it a valid and necessary point to make that the whole purpose of advertising is to influence the grey matter in the prefrontal cortex (oddly named considering it is at the back of the brain). That’s where you find all the buttons and control knobs for emotion, planning and judgment (and likely poor judgment, lack of judgment and the increasingly popular complete lack of judgment). To get there visually, you have to pass through Broca’s territory. Even more frustrating is that the ear is parked next to the Broca region…so there are essentially no shortcuts around Mr. Broca to the “I gotta own that now” planning centre.
So you have to do a little dance, ante up some foreplay, or at least buy Mr. Broca a drink or six. And it works when you do it right. When I look back at my favourite campaigns (my campaigns) it was the application of the Broca Method (for want of a better descriptor) that made it so memorable. I once sang (quite terribly, I might add) about “Sheepskin Boutique” – that campaign ran every Christmas for seven years. I’ve done commercials for liquor stores that convinced me to go buy wine. (Okay, that’s not a stretch.) And still to this day, my favourite of all time was a commercial that talked little about product, and mostly about love. Actually, two of those campaigns were narrated by the Canadian actor Michael Richard Dobson which confirms that a great message requires a brilliant delivery…and Michael, being a master of timing (and a great voice & character actor) created a turnpike bypass that cut through the centre of Broca-ville.
These creative moments of delivery come from the most unexpected places. And maybe that’s the beauty of Broca. My favourite recent example is the famous Washington State Lottery commercial called “Every Bird Should Fly” – created by Publicis Seattle. And even though I’ve seen it 20 or 30 times, and can now predict the ending, it never gets old, because it is art. It entertains. It says something other than, “Buy a ticket. Never work again.” It says something my brain doesn’t want to turn off, and it offers something for which we all yearn – hope.
Much like my commercial campaign selling “love”.
I never saw the message coming. The truest form of Broca I’ve seen in years. And then on Sunday I was riding up the chairlift at Big White Ski Resort. On the six-pack were a mom, four kids and me (not my kids – mine have fur, sleep a lot, and don’t like snow). These kids were all talking about skiing, and snow, and video games, and playing – as, I assume, all eight or nine year olds do – and then one girl looked up into the sky and said to no one in particular:
“I always thought the mountains were ice cream cones. And the snow on them was vanilla ice cream. And I thought I would have a different birthday every year…and that the moon was staring back at me.”
Art Linkletter, RIP.
The little girl sold me on rediscovering the innocence of my long past childhood without ever mentioning childhood. In exactly the same way, Jeff Siegel of Publicis Seattle sold me on winning the lottery without ever suggesting I buy a ticket. They bypassed the Hominid Objection Centre, passed go, and collected two hundred dollars…or at least peaked my interest enough that I felt compelled to learn more.
They did what every advertiser should do. Make me, the consumer, think about how their product fits into my life, and convince me I can’t live without it.
I want that shiny thing of great value in my life.
On the other hand, sometimes the most straightforward message using simple words is all you need.
“Our shit is cheap. Come and get it.”
There, you’ve just trained your client to wait for you to discount your stuff, completely removing any value from its existence and thusly dooming your business to the perpetual cycle of “Sale”, followed by another “Sale”…and then another “Sale”.
The smoked gouda was melted over curry-sprinkled free-range, vegetarian-fed eggs. Cracked black pepper danced across the heaving yolks. On lightly toasted flax flour bread sat perfectly ripe and thinly-sliced avocado. The strangers, who all lived in different neighbourhoods in Kitchenland, came together as a community in concert to create a brilliant breakfast sandwich. The flavour combinations were completely … unexpected.
If only my taste buds were clients.
If only my childhood never ended.
If only Michael Richard Dobson narrated recipes.
Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He lives, writes, plays, and consults with his clients around North America from Canada’s West Coast. And while he rarely shares his work, because unoriginal people steal, he does like to dig through the memory vault from time to time. It reminds him that the things from then, are still important now. It also helps keep him motivated, further helping to continue the success of his company, GreatCreative.Com. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.
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