I like advertisements in general. They tell you of worlds you may not have experienced or heard of before. They tell you stories to make you wonder and think. For some adverts, their main aim is to deliver messages, whether subtly or explicitly.
I recently came across two adverts that tugged my heartstrings. There were others that did the same in the past. I thought I would just write about these two because they are recent, and many would still remember them.
Let’s Have A Fight
The first is a light-hearted effort by SingTel. Set in the Chinese New Year celebratory period, the story revolves around two families who refused to give way while driving along the same road. The impromptu roadblock paved the way for both families to show what they can do with the ‘free time’ – use their data plans to listen to music, play games, watch drama and so on.
When I first watched the advert I thought it highlighted an aspect of our lives we may fail to notice – we can be quite self-righteous in thinking that others need to accede to us. This attitude when carried to the extreme can backfire on us.
Watching a few more times, I come to realise that there is another message: in modern Singapore, family ties have become weaker. One may not have extensive contact with distant relatives anymore. It is a reminder that connections are important. And this advert shows that the situation can be salvaged: that one woman recognises another when they are not preoccupied with their devices shows there is still hope.
You can watch the advert below and see what I mean.
Family And Sacrifice
The second advert I saw appeared during the Chinese New Year period too, for a similar reason – to encourage family connections. The message is more explicit compared to the first advert. The difference is that the storyline takes place over the growing up period of a young man.
This advert uses a series of flashbacks and employs the passage of time to show a father’s love for his son. Both have the same prominent facial feature – a pigmented birthmark that covers part of the face. You can recognise that both are father and son because they have the same birthmark.
The story talks of how the son had a very happy childhood, despite the occasional stares and whispers he encounters in public spaces because of his birthmark. The story moves on to when he is a young adult, feeling unhappy because the girl he wanted to date did not turn up. He took out his anger on his father, blaming him for his facial appearance.
Little did he know that his father went for a tattoo on his face years ago, so that he will have the same birthmark feature as him. He made this painful decision to provide a safe environment for the child to grow up in. It’s a very touching story.
You can watch the advert below and experience the emotions of the different characters for yourself.
What I Learnt About Engaging Adverts
I think engaging adverts have certain elements that attract and create memories for their audience. There are three elements from my point of view:
1. Cultural symbols to connect with the audience. Singaporean audience will be familiar with the colloquial phrase ‘my grandfather’s road’, for this is used on people who behave as if they ‘own’ the place they are in. That was used in SingTel’s advert as the title to make a quick connection with the audience. Similarly, cultural symbols such as National Service, landmarks like Haw Par Villa, and a local Chinese song (Jack Lim’s 关怀方式 or Guan Huai Fang Shi) are employed in the second advert to evoke the audience’s memory of the Singapore of the 1990s.
Cultural symbols can be very powerful tools in transmitting messages to people. They connect with people and bring a sense of familiarity to them. They are ways to help people feel at ease with what they are receiving. The choice of cultural symbols also send signals on what the audience should accept (or reject if the advert is not to their taste). Similarly, the use of symbols in the workplace, religion or other areas can transmit a sense of familiarity and comfort to people, or confer power to those who use these symbols.
2. A compelling plot with twists and turns. Who doesn’t love a story? Who will not be enthralled by a story with unexpected surprises? Good adverts don’t sell you the products or services in your face. They get you to embark on a short journey with them, and cleverly weave in the products or services in the story.
But a good advert goes beyond that to provide surprises along the way. If you expect some authorities to come and resolve the roadblock, you are in for a surprise. In a nod towards community mediation, SingTel cleverly uses food (a bond Singaporeans share) and distant relations to diffuse the situation. The roadblock became an impromptu new year visitation between two related families, in the middle of nowhere. It literally transforms the definition of ‘my grandfather’s road’.
The second advert also carries a similar, if not more, compelling plot. One would expect both father and son to be similar in appearance, but one may not have expected the father to make that decision one fateful day years ago, to have a tattoo on his face so that his son would have a protective environment in the family to grow up in. You cannot help but wonder at how the father made that decision, and the reception he received over the years.
3. Identifiable Characters In Adverts. There will always be some archetypes employed in adverts to make the characters instantly relatable by the audience. For example, you have the kid who is forever hungry, the boy who takes a liking for a girl (usually from the family of an ‘enemy’), the husband who is controlled by the wife, and a bossy woman who refuses to be pushed away. You also have the element of sacrifice whenever you want to portray parents in an advert – the idea of being a noble parent comes into play.
Archetypes are very useful in adverts precisely because you cannot have very long commercials running. Time is not just precious – the cost of producing long commercials is also high. With the rise of social media, the cost of producing adverts can come down since distribution across social media platforms is lower. Still, you cannot capture the attention of the audience if adverts are long. People’s attention span are not very long these days.
What do you think are key elements in producing engaging and entertaining advertisements? Do you consider those elements I identify as key elements? What are your favourite commericals?