Ari Sherman, Creative Advertising

Can you handle the truth? What I learned at the movies about branding, advertising and story telling

Posted in Advertising, Social Media by Ari Sherman on March 4, 2013

A funny thing happened as I looked over my portfolio this morning. I started thinking about how the truth, my writing, effective marketing and story telling all co-exist. And the result was both powerful and simple. I remembered that the best stories are true stories, true as defined as convincing an audience to embrace experience which doesn’t rely on falsehood, true as in not conceived in an effort to mislead. True rings true when one is moved to embrace, rather than reject. True is what bears repeating. Just like the experience of seeing a good movie.

And I should probably know. For years I’ve been paid to create compelling advertising for motion pictures and television shows. I don’t have to lie to brand a movie or TV series. I simply need to find a truth and help shape it into media designed to reach a wide audience. Usually this means reading a script or viewing a piece and then asking a core question. What motivates me to like it, what sells me on its message? What is its truth, and how can I impart just enough of it to generate strong response without giving away what will ultimately make it a pleasurable experience? Because that’s what entertainment is, one big user experience that hopefully drives its message to reach the hearts and minds of millions.

Oh, and I’ve got just one chance, because once the movie opens or the TV show airs the user community takes over. All I can hope to do is help convince a core targeted audience to buy tickets or tune in – from then on it’s all about word of mouth, community story telling at the water cooler as it were. Of all the advertising, branding and other work I’ve done, it’s been among the most high stakes, exhilarating, and rewarding.

It might seem easy, just find the sales point and state it. And it almost is. The only variable is creativity. Because in a world flooded with messages, selling customers on a creative experience takes creative messaging. The strategy, be it for digital media or traditional advertising, can only succeed if the story I tell about the experience being offered is compelling, in other words true, powerful and appropriately unique. Only a distinctive marketing message can reach, let alone convince, its target audience. To simply add to the indistinct roar of poorly conceived generic advertising and branding around us won’t move users to act, sell them on wanting to engage, tune in, or – in the case of a movie – go the theater and buy a ticket let alone encourage others in their community to embrace the same experience.

Which is why cookie cutters don’t always cut it. SEO, keyword placement, analytics – all these are at best tools. Another of my passions, poetry, has taught me to work successfully with tools…in part by recognizing their limits. Sometimes following a traditional form can yield a more powerful result, at other times it can reduce one to writing useless babble, just like search recognition tactics. If a tool serves organically to bolster original content great. But if it’s controlling the message, or used in place of fresh compelling writing, the effort is doomed to fail, as increasingly even the web recognizes and rewards original content. In the end, whether it’s a poem, branding effort or ad, the experience is only as true as what the user makes of it – just like a movie. If it isn’t convincing, they won’t buy it. If it’s true for them they’ll share it.

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