An accusation you may commonly hear against an idea is that it's 'contrived.'

To which the natural response is 'but of course it's contrived, it's made-up, it's an advertisement, not real life!'

However, the objection nearly always proves fatal. Although most people can't explain what they mean by 'contrived', it seems to be a massive problem for them.

What I think they mean is 'a coincidence that doesn't feel justified.'

As Creatives, we constantly need to play with reality, to engineer coincidence and unreality, in order to dramatise. But how to do it in a way that seems justified?

Probably the only thing I learned when I was screenwriting which is useful when I'm working on adverts is how to handle coincidence effectively.

It's a well-known principle in screenwriting that the audience will accept any coincidence - no matter how outlandish - as long as it has a negative effect on the protagonist.

In other words, if a movie hero has an immunity to snake poison, and then the treasure just happens to be guarded by snakes, the audience will feel the scene is unsatisfying, too convenient, mere coincidence... contrived.

But if the treasure is guarded by snakes, which happen to be the hero's very worst fear in the entire world... it's no more or less coincidental than before, but the audience reaction is the exact opposite - they find the situation to be dramatic, exciting and fulfilling.

Now let's apply it to advertising.

Lucky, the former More Than insurance Spokesdog, starred in a series of adventures in which, by sheer coincidence, a chain of potentially disastrous events ended up causing no damage. Guess what? Those ads were not good. They felt cheesy. (Sorry, couldn't find on YouTube).



Whereas in 'Drugstore', my favourite advert of all time, there is a similarly massive coincidence - the pharmacist who sells our hero his condoms just happens to be the dad of the girl he's taking out that night. And it's thrilling.

So that's the tip. When you use coincidence, make sure it's causing a problem, not a solution. Then your ads will seem dramatic, and not contrived.

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