Not sure which football teams are playing, but I sure as hell know that VW is up against Kia, Hyundai, and a hundred others!
There'll be a lot of analysis of the Super Bowl ads, but it will mostly be superficial. People will say "I liked this one" or "I liked that one." There might be the occasional comment on the idea or the strategy, but not a lot.
And we definitely won't talk enough about craft.
At the end of the day, that's what consumers consume. Not the idea or the strategy. They consume the music, the performances, the cinematography, and most of all - the storytelling.
So I thought it might be fun to go into a little depth about the craft of one single spot, an ad that I reckon has been expertly crafted.
It's this year's Budweiser Clydesdales ad, 'Puppy Love', by Anomaly New York and director Jake Scott, which at time of writing already has 29 million views on YouTube. Before the game has even started.
Here it is.
So, the craft.
First, the music: 'Let Her Go' by Passenger, could not be more appropriate to the story, plus is highly emotive.
Performances: can't fault them. Oscar for the animal trainer, especially.
Casting: again, dead-on. The farmer character is perfectly handsome yet rugged. The puppy adoption lady (despite apparently being a former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model) here becomes the epitome of wholesomeness.
The trickiest role to get right was the would-be adopter. The puppy must end up with the horse, and we don't want this to cause the audience to feel sorry for the thwarted adopter.
All is achieved very cleverly. First of all, he's a bit of a dick - he's wearing sunglasses, at a farm. And most importantly, when this wannabe adopter is first given his puppy, he's checking his phone.
The implication is clear - this douchebag doesn't deserve a puppy.
And that brings us on to storytelling. What a masterclass. First of all, any good story makes us care about the protagonist. But most storytellers don't know how to do that. (Especially in ads). They think the way to make the audience care about a protagonist is simply to make them likeable, which is why we end up with so many characters (especially in ads) who are attractive and smiley.... but we don't care about them. In fact many great stories feature protagonists who are dislikable, even actively evil - such as Tony Montana in Scarface or Michael Corleone in The Godfather - and yet we become deeply involved with them.
Simply put, we care about a character who has a clear goal that they care about, and struggles to get to it. Someone once said that a movie consists of 90 minutes of a character failing, until they win. (Or lose, it doesn't matter, as long as the result is definitive). Luke Skywalker gets kicked from pillar to post, until he finally blows up the Death Star. Harrison Ford barely wins a single fight in the Raiders of the Lost Ark films - he is repeatedly captured, beaten and insulted - until the final scene.
The more they struggle and suffer, the better. Take Gatsby. He's a spoiled rich wanker. Why the hell do we care about him? Because he goes to an unbelievable amount of trouble - putting on all those immense parties - because he wants Daisy.
Sorry, back to the puppy. He wants the horse. And he struggles a hell of a lot to get to it.
He burrows under the fence...
...opens a heavy door with his nose...
...cops a soaking...
...but still goes back under the fence again.
That's why we care. Because he's struggling and striving for his goal.
So is the horse. Here he is jumping a fence, to get to the puppy.
The audience identification is cemented with one 'cheat shot'. The entire story is told in the third person (camera as observer)... except for this one shot where we see the horse from the POV of the puppy. (The same trick that Spike Jonze pulled off in his famous Ikea 'Lamp' spot).
After getting the audience to invest so completely in the puppy as a protagonist, it's supremely rewarding for the audience when he and the horse finally get together. But that's not all. The final shot also makes the audience believe that the farmer and puppy lady will get together - a piece of thematic 'doubling' that makes the climax even more satisfying.
Oh, one more thing. Since this is a post about craft, I'm not going to discuss here whether the ad will be commercially effective or not, though I strongly believe that it will (American newspapers are already calling it "the most adorable Super Bowl ad ever"). But there is one craft aspect that's crucial in advertising though not relevant to storytelling in general, which is branding.
The more the audience feels they are watching a beautiful emotional story and the less they feel they are being sold to, the better. And yet, obviously the ad must be well-branded, because mis-attribution is a disaster, from an effectiveness point of view.
The great advantage here is that Budweiser has been running these Clydesdale ads for years - since 1933, in fact - and it's a property the brand is strongly associated with. So the spot is intrinsically branded.
But even then, the ad's makers have included nine separate shots of the Budweiser logo, before the endframe. The logo features on the farmer's cap. But because it is always very carefully shot to be 'visible but not visible', I'd say it does a fantastic job of unconsciously reinforcing the branding, without an overly-commercial presence that could compromise the emotion of the storytelling.
So, apologies for the long post. But I'm only trying to redress the balance a little.
We don't talk enough about craft.