It’s a kind of magic

May 6, 2021

People sometimes ask me what it’s like to make TV commercials for a living and they often suggest that it must be fun. So, I’ll let you in on a little secret.

It is.

First of all, I’ve always liked telling stories and making jokes. Getting a laugh out of somebody is always a shared Dopamine surge – you know that you gave someone some happiness and it feels good. Now multiply that by a 1000 people watching a video you made for an enormous sales meeting, all laughing at something you personally created with the direct intention of getting that laugh. That’s just heaven on earth. And making commercials is just telling stories, making tiny little movies that can inform, entertain, and motivate. Especially with humor and that is not just because I like making people laugh. I use humor in advertising for specific reasons.

One, if a viewer laughs, watching the commercial has become a positive experience right off the bat. No downside there.

Two, if it’s a funny spot, people will share it or stop a conversation if it comes on TV, like “Shhh, this is a good one”. No downside there either.

Three, and this is especially true with absurdist humor, it really makes the spot less connected with concrete arguable facts and more connected to abstract ideas and abstract concepts and these can often land harder and stick longer.

An example:

Contra Costa County once had us make a couple of spots to let people know about their new app, called the Food Detective, which would let people check out the health department report on any restaurant in the county. A straight-ahead approach wouldn’t be bad, but also wouldn’t be terribly memorable. It would just be…information. We came up with the idea that activating the app LITERALLY creates an ACTUAL detective with fedora, trench coat and magnifying glass, who then checks out every aspect of the restaurant and renders his judgement. A little wild, a little goofy and certainly not realistic (I even put a fun disclaimer in the commercial) but the concept the viewer needed to take away is there, reinforced with the weirdness.

Take a Peek

Another enjoyable aspect of my job is that I get to learn a little bit about other people’s businesses. Making commercials has allowed me to learn about SO many other industries, because in order to create a spot for a business, I have to LEARN a bit about what they do. And I like to learn.

I also enjoy making TV commercials because of the limitations that are put upon them, specifically, time limits. The standard spot lengths on TV are 30 seconds or 15 seconds and it’s often the greatest challenge to try to distill a whole story into that short of a time.

But these reasons all take a back seat to the main reason, which is the joy associated with the very act of creation itself. It’s very powerful, and it’s amplified by the fact that video is a very powerful medium.

It’s a kind of magic.

You have an idea. You then flesh it out in written form and polish it. Then you choose people to become the people you wrote about, selecting how they will look and sound. Then you put them in an environment that you select and then they do what you direct them to do. You then put the pieces together in the edit bay, layering in music and sound effects to create a reality. Something that was once an intangible thought in your head is now alive, walking and talking.

So, I got that working for me. Which is nice.

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