You can tell the tension is slowly building up as the instrumental piano in the background intensifies, becoming louder. Next shot, two men sit at a bar enjoying two bottles of beer that appear hardly relevant to the whole setting, as the camera focuses on the younger man’s face. And then he drops the bomb: “I wanted to actually ask you to legally adopt me.”
We are sure that most people who have made it 2:25 minutes in to Budweiser’s Father’s Day campaign video know exactly what moment we’re referencing above, because it is the precise moment when you burst into tears, at which point what follows in the remaining minute or so isn’t even relevant anymore.
In just a clever sequence of shots, the ad makes a point to 1) show what is being advertised, 2) what greater social cause is being endorsed and 3) ideally, it will make you cry. It is at exactly minute 2:17, next to a conveniently but not inauthentically placed bottle of Budweiser, that the younger man unfolds the legal documents for his adoption, and by all accounts that is everything you need to remember.
Recent years have been flooded by advertisements that follow the same pattern – a quiet beginning, intensifying instrumental background scores, emotional punchlines. This is hardly a coincidence, as neuroscientists have long championed that emotions leave longer-lasting impacts in your memory than rational facts. In fact, this is so much so that a study by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising found that advertisements with purely emotional content generated twice as much profit as ads based solely on product-related facts.
It turns out, then, that an advert’s ability to lure in viewers by means of storytelling has a far greater influence on customers’ decision to purchase a product than the advert showcasing the benefits of said product. In the context of an over-saturated mass market, it is no longer sufficient to create a brilliant product; brands have become more and more aware that in order to win customer’s trust, they must first appeal to their basic human principles.
Gillette’s Father’s Day advert was a great example of how storytelling has come to be the driving force behind remarkable campaigns that almost seem to be selling audiences a lifestyle rather than a product. The advert, on the surface, shows a young transgender man shaving for the first time under his father’s supervision – not that big of a deal, right? Wrong. Not only is the advert making a bold statement about what manhood has come to mean in the 21st century, but it also plays on a deeply embedded cultural myth of the father mentoring his son into becoming a ‘real’ man, which is why the ad has currently gained over 10K shares on Facebook, and thousands of reactions across all social media platforms. Not to mention, the ad checks all the boxes for emotional social cause sob-stories, but it does so in such a genuine manner that we can overlook the melancholic violin in the background.
Documentary cinematographer Ken Burns once said that “all storytelling is manipulation” and as proven by recent campaigns, it appears brands are nowhere close to jumping off the emotional advertising wagon. In a fast-paced world where no product is irreplaceable, companies must make an effort greater than ever before to get to know their audiences, understand the causes they stand by and the narratives they associate with themselves in order to ensure their products – and brand – are relevant on the market.