There was a time in advertising when everything was sung. When little ditties sold everything from Miller Time (“beer after beer”) to Marvel the Mustang (“he’s almost for real!”). Today, aside from licensed tracks from known artists, no one sings a story anymore. And I can’t help wondering if maybe we’ve walked away from a very powerful source of emotion.
By now, a huge part of the world knows about Susan Boyle, an unemployed forty-seven year old woman living outside London. This clip, posted only six days ago on YouTube, has already racked up nearly twenty million views–it jumped nearly three million overnight.
Chances are, you’ve seen this. But even if you haven’t, you know the drill: a highly-unlikely nobody appears on a popular TV program to a chilly reception from Simon Cowell’s panel of snide taste meisters and then, unleashing a voice that channels the glory of angels, proceeds to stun the judges, win the audience and knock the smirk off Simon’s well-moisturized face. You know this drill because Susan’s story repeats, nearly beat for beat, the story of Paul Potts, the unassuming mobile phone salesman from South Wales who dreamed of singing opera professionally (and apparently, now does).
Ty Pennington does this same kind of thing yet for some reason I resent his stories. Week after week, he tells yet another deserving family “you give so much to this community, this community wants to give something back to you” and later bellows “move that bus!” into a megaphone so the givers can finally see the cornucopia of product placements Extreme Home Makeover has whipped up that week. I always feel manipulated and cheap, regretting any sentiment these stories generate for being so cheaply summoned.
But Susan’s story–and of course Paul’s–feels different. Both live in that artistic realm of music, a humanity that serves no practical purpose and yet stirs the soul and calls up emotion like little else in our world. When this many people around the world find themselves powerfully moved by nothing more than the simple act of someone opening their mouth to sing, it might be time to reconsider our reticence about commercial jingles. Because genuine emotion is a powerful, powerful thing.
And yet, take another look at that photo… Consider Susan’s honest, unglamorous face… Maybe what moves so many of us about this clip is not simply her gorgeous voice, but the surprise that someone as unassuming, as unpolished as herself, can create such raw, palpable beauty.
That’s the real ticket. In a pinch, I’ll always put my money on surprise.
By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
PS: Today, viral fame can build with an almost terrifying ferocity: an addendum.