You’re Right Again Bill Bernbach: Advertising Is Fundamentally Persuasion, and Thus Not Science But Art

A group of us spent the day yesterday at a briefing session for a new business pitch. Unlike most of these exercises, this client spent a lot of time carefully assembling a presentation that was incredibly dense with facts and background information.  To a person, they understood their advertising’s key shortcoming: it is long on reason but lacking in emotion.  They want to inspire people to not simply consider, but to care.  

After 104 powerpoint slides, they ultimately arrived at the same sentiment as Bill Bernbach’s famous quote: “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”  “Art” is a big word and one that many of us shy away from: it implies too much, it assumes a level of importance that a static banner ad may not seem to merit.

And yet, the best advertising messages contain an extra something, a spark of humanity or truth or simple engagement that transcends mere communication.  You can call that art, but in television, that ‘art’ usually amounts to ‘performance.’Picture 2

Which brings me to this ad for Harris Bank.  To see it, surf to this Harris microsite, click on the small TV icon in the lower left, then click on the little square that pictures a blue shirt-wearing young businessguy.  Now pay particular attention to the second vignette of the couple kayaking on the Chicago River…

Nice huh?  I’m probably more proud of how the team brought this scene to life than any other we’ve captured on film in years.  Candidly, I didn’t think this vignette would even work when I saw it in board form.  Yet somehow, inspired confident casting, deft choreography, and two actors capturing a commonplace yet momentous human exchange through a believably natural yet heartwarming performance, elevates this scene beyond the prosaic.

If you analyze the meaning of this scene in a commercial context, you reach one understanding.  But when you feel it, the experience reaches a far deeper, more meaningful level.  A great human performance–whether remarkable or hysterical or moving or naturally relatable–can be powerfully persuasive.  Because it can make you feel.

And that my friends, is why creating an animatic to understand how a commercial might work is like buying a blow up doll to understand how a relationship works.  It’s not even close.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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