Instant Corporate Video Pitches to Convince the Nonbelievers, with a Twist.
What can Franz Kafka and movies teach us about advertising?
Do you need a beetle?
You can use a screenwriting trick to INSTANTLY come up with pitches for ads…in addition to film plots.
I like coming up with corporate video pitches for fun…it’s what I do. I had one come my way via a Twitter DM that I’d like to take a shot at.
I run a small health food store for picky eaters. We only stock foods without questionable or gross ingredients. We don’t sell products using castoreum (beaver gland juice used as a sweetener), no insect based ingredients (used in dyes and coating), and absolutely no aspartame (which is e-coli manure). We don’t carry brands like Hormel, after seeing puss makes it into the final end-product.
It’s hard getting the message across as most people want store brand items and shrug their shoulders at such ingredients and practices. We aren’t like Whole Foods, with yoga mats, gluten fear mongering, and asparagus water. We’d like to keep it that way, but it’s hard reaching a broader audience.
Is a ‘Social Norm” Getting in the Way of Your Message or Product?
You may not be a gluten-phobe, but surely you wouldn’t want feces in your food…used on PURPOSE…such as aspartame. But wait…no one really…cares? Despite a lot of press about gross ingredients, such as pink slime, beaver juice, and fecal based ingredients, people still buy those name brand products, at their ‘normal’ store.
That defies logic. How can any corporate video convince people to see the light?
Even though most people wouldn’t like what’s in some of those products, they consent to willful ignorance: “It’s not MY PRODUCT that uses pig puss in their meat”. Or they’ll say, “Red Dye 40 is the dye that doesn’t use ground up insects…or is it…I’ll assume it isn’t. Who knows what all these sciency words are.”
It’s a “Social Norm” to go to a normal grocery store, and buy a normal, name brand product. You hear the reports of nasty ingredients, but you ignore them. You grew up with and trust Nabisco, Hormel, Pepsi, and the like. People roll their eyes at “health food” and “natural ingredients”. It’s a niche market to want those things.
‘Social Norms’ make more logical ‘Inconvenient Truths’ go away.
‘Social Norms’ are comfortable, and more importantly, they feel safe. You avoid judgement, painful truths, and extra energy. But it comes at the expense of logic.
You don’t quit a bad job, because, all jobs are bad and you’re supposed to be responsible. That suppresses the idea of taking a risk (inconvenient) and not waiting for something to happen.
You don’t divorce a bad marriage, because, families stick it out. That suppresses the idea that family ties are fictional thing society made up for economic reasons…so you don’t leave your drunk husband (inconvenient).
In Jean’s case, the ‘Social Norm’ is corporatism. People trust name brands…or they consent to forget, rather. You can make an argument that food corporations aren’t in the business of making food. They’re in the business of MAKING YOU FORGET how nasty the process is. Thank God your average first world consumer doesn’t have to drain the puss out of dinner. Slap a cartoon character and bright red colors on a box of carcinogenic beetle turds and puss meat, and “all is forgotten”. That’s an inconvenient truth.
When a ‘Social Norm’ represses an inconvenient truth it can be hard to get a message across.
Is there a way to trick the viewer’s brain? Can you turn OFF the ‘Social Norm’, and the emotional attachment to it…you know…like it NEVER EXISTED?
YES. Yes you can.
This is where the Kafka and screenwriting come into play, with a TWIST.
(Yes, you can use narrative devices to create ad pitches).
Twists: DESIGNED to Neutralize the Social Norm.
Here’s a common ‘Social Norm’: Family. You’re supposed to love your family and work things out – blood is supposed to be thicker than water.
However, here’s an inconvenient truth: family is an artificial concept. It was created as a defense mechanism against poverty. It’s an economic arrangement, especially if you want to afford a house: It was not created with love in mind. Women used to be sold to husbands to care for a household. Children were bred to work the fields and provide free labor to the family. Husbands were only expected to be providers, not partners, nor a second parent.
The ‘love’ aspect was added later on, in the past few centuries, as a sugarcoating. That sugar coating eventually became a ‘Social Norm’. To some, it’s an artificial sweetener. Narrative authors in the 19th century wanted to write about this dark concept of ‘family’.
However, like Jean and his grocery store, these authors had a ‘Social Norm’ in the way. The general public didn’t want to face the inconvenient truth of what’s actually inside the pretty box, called ‘family’, much like how people don’t want to really know the ingredients in mainstream food.
These 19th century authors could do a logical and confrontational approach in their stories. Or, they could use a marketing trick to get their inconvenient truth across.
The Logical and Confrontational Approach
Henrik Ibsen wrote a now-classic play called, “A Doll’s House”. The wife, stuck in a phony marriage, abandons her husband and children: an extreme act by today’s standards. While ‘A Doll’s House’ is considered a classic now, at the time of release, it failed to get its message across. The general public booed and dismissed it. In fact, there are people in 2016 that see ‘A Doll’s House’ in a negative light since the wife abandoned her children. A lot of couples to this day try to stay together for their children, so long as their spouse isn’t violent or verbally abusive.
Ibsen initially stumbled because he tried using straightforward logic, obsessed ONLY with the message itself, not HOW it was delivered. People were so outraged at the idea of someone leaving their children behind and leaving a non-abusive (albeit phony) spouse that they couldn’t see the message Ibsen was trying to get across.
Ibsen: “The wife doesn’t want to be treated like property. Family members are merely objects of material worth you pretend to love.”
Society: “She still has to care for her kids. The husband isn’t that bad. This play is just stirring up controversy for desperate attention. The wife is an oddity and not representative of all wives. You hate family values.”
‘A Doll’s House’ was even censored when it first debuted, in order to satiate the public.
Social Norm 1, Ibsen 0.
Emotion trumps logic. You have to SWITCH OFF people’s emotional idea of family, so they can see your message CLEARLY…and be open to it, not offended by it.
The Marketing Twist Approach – Deactivate the Social Norm.
A while after Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’, Franz Kafka wrote ‘The Metamorphosis’. Unlike Ibsen’s more direct and confrontational approach about family, Kafka had a marketing trick up his sleeve: The protagonist, Gregor Samsa, would wake up to find he had turned into a beetle.
Kafka used a beetle. Does your pitch need a beetle?
Gregor was the sole breadwinner to his family, living with both parents and his younger sister, Grete. Now they would have to earn a living without Gregor and care for Gregor in his insect state. When Gregor becomes inconvenient for them to care for, it becomes convenient for the family to assume the beetle isn’t actually Gregor after all. They then internally justify abandoning him to die alone, as they move on with their lives.
Kafka made Gregor turn into a beetle by DESIGN, purely so people’s sugar coated idea of family wouldn’t get in the way when he shows the artificial reality of family. This twist is not symbolic or metaphoric PERIOD. It is purely so a ‘Social Norm” is turned off.
Unlike Ibsen, people were NOT offended by the Metamorphosis. Gregor is no longer family, he is a stranger. Readers understood why the family did what it did. There was no controversial challenge to the status quo, it was a twist: Gregor was a Beetle.
Nora, the wife in ‘A Doll’s House’, was initially seen as a cold hearted isolated incident.
In ‘The Metamorphosis’ all that remained was seeing a family transform into what it really is: an economic necessity devoid of love or appreciation.
The ‘Social Norm’ of family was removed by Kafka, leaving only the logic he was conveying for the readers. When Gregor Samsa was left to die alone by his family, a new emotion emerged: people were now fully aware of how cold and phony the economic structure of a family could be. They was no anger towards any character in ‘The Metamorphosis’, unlike ‘A Doll’s House’. There was only an emotional attachment to Gregor as he died alone.
The reader felt emotional AGAINST the ‘Social Norm’ and WITH Gregor.
In ‘A Doll’s Hosue’ it was the opposite. Readers felt emotional AGAINST Nora and WITH the ‘Social Norm’.
You have to remove emotional attachment to Social Norms so an emotional attachment to your message, an ‘Inconvenient Truth’, can come through.
People saw what the ‘Inconvenient Truth’ of family did to Gregor and felt emotionally invested in changing that. If readers are emotionally tied to the ‘Social Norm’, there will be no emotion left for them to spend on solving the ‘Inconvenient Truth’. Kafka was aware of this.
‘The Metamorphosis’ was a hit right out of the gate and is considered the best short story ever written.
Kafka 1, Social Norm 0
Ibsen, on the other hand, had to wait a while for people to appreciate ‘A Doll’s House’. Feminism became more popular and people eventually interpreted ‘A Doll’s House’ as a proud act of feminism with Nora abandoning her family, even though that was not Ibsen’s actual intent.
Ibsen didn’t turn off the reader’s ‘Social Norm’ so they hated Nora for going against the idea of family, rather than seeing her a victim of the ‘Inconvenient Truth’, which they totally felt with Gregor.
Turning off a ‘Social Norm’ is a common screenwriting tactic. Let’s do a quick example of it in use.
A common ‘Social Norm’ for people is the future: The idea that something will happen to you in future suppresses the idea that you can pursue something in the present (inconvenient). So people WAIT for something good to happen to them, in lieu of making it happen.
Screenwriter Danny Rubin wanted to write a screenplay about this ‘Social Norm’. He needed to ‘turn off’ the idea of the Future. So Danny REMOVED THE FUTURE from his screenplay. The protagonist, Phil Connors, was stuck living the same day, over and over. It was February 2nd every day for about a decade: That was Danny’s ‘beetle’. The audience and protagonist were un-brainwashed by the ‘Social Norm’, the future. You were left with the classic movie, ‘Groundhog Day’.
Is there any other way to get the point of Groundhog Day across so efficiently without a twist that removes the obstruction?
Never Struggle with Creative Block Again
Clever and very powerful twists don’t merely pop into your head by pure luck. They’re also not a secret power that only creative geniuses possess.
These ideas are DESIGNED. The use a very simple, step by step process: blue collar, almost.
Now where does that leave us in regards to corporate videos and pitching ads?
1. Identify if your client’s goals are blocked by a ‘Social Norm”. If so, we can use this technique.
2. Identify and target the ‘Social Norm’ appropriately.
3. Remove the ‘Social Norm’ with a twist. We don’t want people emotionally invested in it.
Let’s get back to Jean’s question regarding his ‘picky eaters’ grocery store. Remember, he doesn’t want his store carrying questionable ingredients, but mainstream people aren’t as receptive.
Let’s do the process:
We’ve already established that a ‘Social Norm’ of “Corporatism / Willful ignorance” is a problem for Jean. That settles steps 1 and 2.
So we’ll skip to step 3: Let’s remove “Corporatism / Willful ignorance”, with a twist.
What’s Jean’s ‘beetle’?
Jean’s Twisted Pitch
People shrug their shoulders and turn a blind eye to how prepackaged food is made in an offsite factory. However, you would NEVER do that IN PERSON.
People are trained to trust corporate food manufacturing. We need to REMOVE THE CORPORATE / OFF FACTORY process. Replace it with an ‘IN-PERSON’ process. That’s our beetle.
Our spot will start at a neighbor’s house, who’s hosting a barbecue. The host is shown making food as his guests watch. He kills a live chicken, but it has puss infected legs, which he ignores. He drains castoreum from a beaver’s anal glands to make a nice vanilla custard for desert. He grinds up beetles to use as red dye for pink lemonade. His guests scream, run out of the house, and start dialing their cellphones.
Close with a tagline of: “If you saw someone do this in person, you’d call the police. Why accept it from a corporation?”
Then introduce Jean’s mission, selling only foods like mom would make.
Compare this pitch idea to more ‘Ibsen-style’ commercial spots you have seen. You know, the kind that are more direct and confrontational, appealing to logic and controversy, such as “Meat is Murder”. Or some spots try to bore you with logic, stating, “Oh this food has carcinogens etc”. Those spots are commonly dismissed as “tree-hugger” propaganda.
Let’s try a fresh idea: You have to make a spot to promote recycling.
Let’s do the process.
1. Does a ‘Social Norm’ exist? Yes, in this case, not recycling is a type of ‘willful ignorance’. To most people, it’s like making multiple garbage cans instead of one. No one really sees or cares to learn what happens after the fact: The ‘trash’ magically disappears and no one cares to see the difference.
2. Identify and Target the ‘Social Norm’: People don’t truly know what happens when you do or don’t recycle. There’s no tangible evidence for them to see: It’s just TRASH to everyone.
3. Let’s create a twist. What if, instead of a piece of trash, a recyclable item was something alive, with feelings. Being put in the trash is death: Being put in the recycle bin is life. That’s our beetle.
Start the commercial with a child pouring the last bit of milk from a carton. He moves the mouth of the empty milk carton like a puppet. The carton comes to life and starts speaking to him (the talking milk carton is our beetle). They become friends.
The next morning the garbage truck is rolling through the block. The child wakes up, but can’t find his “imaginary” friend. The child asks his father where “Milky” is. The dad says, “It’s pick up day”. The child runs to the window to see the trash truck compacting the family’s garbage.
The child is depressed. He tries to make a new milk carton talk, but to no avail. The child notices a blue recycle bin in the kitchen. His mom explains, “Oh, we’ve been recycling since last week”.
The child looks in the recycle bin. A juice box starts talking, “Help me up”, but it’s actually “Milky’s” voice, who explains he was recycled.
Compare this pitch to your stereotypical spots telling you how many trees you could save with graphics displaying global warming projections for the next decade.
An Actual Commercial Diffusing a ‘Social Norm’.
This memorable commercial was popular a few years back. I’m showing it since the situation and techniques used for the script blend similarities from the food store and recycling pitches above.
See if you can spot the “Social Norm’ and how it was erased.
Emotion Trumps Logic
When ‘Social Norms’ exist, some ads will try to explain the ‘logic’ against something: food ingredients, recycling, or the chemicals in your cleaning supplies. There’s no emotion in logic. The emotion from a ‘Social Norm’ blocks all logic against it. So you have to block the ‘Social Norm’, so people can see things objectively, and more importantly, with emotion: disgust in the food pitch, sadness in the recycling pitch, and violation in the Soapy Suds commercial shown above.
Watch a few corporate videos and commercials and see if you can spot logical and confrontational messages that fall on deaf ears. Compare them to spots that diffuse a ‘Social Norm’, so an alternate point of view comes across effectively.
If a ‘Social Norm’ blocks your product, this method can give you a more creative and emotional pitch idea, almost instantly. It is more applicable to PSAs (recycling, drunk driving, stay in school etc), since there’s no tangible end product to the extra work put in. However, there are plenty of products that fall under this category: electric cars, clean energy products, health food, etc.
Some products are easy sells. It’s a ‘Social Norm’ that a product should have a clear cut advantage: holds 10,000 songs, saves you time cleaning, tastes great. Other products don’t have an obvious advantage and in fact, ask the consumer to do extra work and research.
Those products or messages don’t have to be a difficult pitch: Make it a beetle.
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