Hands Off

Irecently spent several hours in a meeting where we dissected the objective of every frame of a proposed commercial. We identified the angle of every shot, analyzed the import of every word and gesture. By the time we were done, nothing was left to the imagination. And that was exactly the problem.

All the life had been drained out of what might have been a wonderful spot because nothing had been left to chance. And leaving nothing to chance means there will be no spontaneity, no serendipity, no unexpected moment that might lead to an unscripted bit of magic.

I’m concerned that this is becoming a trend. Clients are nervous—justifiably so—about the economy. They are fearful that their money isn’t working hard enough. And to combat anxiety, they are trying to avoid surprises. The popular solution is, “More is more.” More discussion, more words, more explanations, more meetings—more control.

But controlling creativity can be counterproductive. Managing, predicting and contriving every image and phrase leaves no room for nuance. I’m not suggesting we go into productions unprepared. But there is a big difference between being prepared and being programmed.

Let’s get back to what we’re all trying to do in advertising: connect with people. People who have to be persuaded not to tune out when they know a commercial is coming. People who see hundreds of spots a month and thousands a year and are still expected to remember some minute but meaningful detail that will lead them to prefer your product.

But here’s the catch: Preference doesn’t happen on the left side of the brain—it’s based on feeling, not logic. Beating commercials to death with logic won’t help them connect.

What creates a connection? It’s the little moment that is difficult—no, not just difficult—impossible to script in advance. The lift in a phrase, the pause between words, the moment of suspense before a punch line. It’s timing and delivery, it’s shades and gradations, it’s subtlety. It’s the value of what is left unsaid. The pause may speak louder than the words themselves. We’d be smart to take a lesson from the great movie directors who allow the actors time to act.

Not everything can be communicated in words. It’s why artists don’t talk about painting, they just paint. It’s why great singers don’t talk about singing, they sing. It’s why Tony Bennett, at 75, is a superstar among people who are 25. He has perfected the art of the nuance. Once he’s recorded a song, it’s hard for anyone else to perform it. Why? The answer is not an explanation: It’s an experience.

Advertising must rise to this level if we’re going to capture people’s hearts and minds. Deconstructing scene objectives and analyzing key visuals may offer direction, but we will never enthrall the consumer unless we leave the time and space for the talent to do its magic.

That’s what infuses a spot with feeling. It’s the difference between charm and predictability, between poetry and text. The deft nuance is a bridge to a feeling we cannot plan. And it happens when we leave a few things unsaid.

Recommended articles