There is a current ad on TV that is driving my son and me absolutely crazy.
I don't remember what the ad is for (and that's a problem but we'll talk about that later) I just know what happens. Or at least I try to figure out what happens.
But it doesn't make sense.
The scene opens up with a car that been in an accident on a clearly isolated mountainous road. There is a boulder in the road which the car has clearly hit. But then a deer walks across the road right in front of the car and the shaken passengers.
What happens next in the commercial isn't important.
Because we are stuck trying to figure out what is going on. Did the car swerve to avoid the deer? If so how did the boulder get in the road? There's a lot of damage – why weren't the air bags deployed? Did the boulder tumble down a hill into the road and if so why is the deer there so calmly walking across that very same road? Is the deer's purpose to simply show remoteness or is it there to tug at our Bambi heart-strings (thank god they hit the boulder and not the pretty deer)?
My son and I don't get it and as a result whenever we see the commercial we launch into yet another story of what might be happening (I don't even want to go into the alien abduction theory). Neither my son or I can tell you what the ad is selling.
And right there - that's the big problem.
Because even though the company has succeeded in creating an exercise in creative storytelling for our family, they have not gotten their point across and have not made us consider an action we should take.
It happens a lot. In trying to sell a product people think they need to entertain instead of deliver the goods. The more the better, right? People are used to lots of visual input, they can handle it.
Oh, without doubt, there have been outstanding commercials that tell complete stories with beginnings, middle, and ends, but likewise there have been many (far too many) where you are left scratching your head saying “huh?”. They contain too many unrelated details opening up the door to too many questions and alternate scenarios.
It's a problem that's also found in writing. Unlike a skillfully crafted red herring used as a device to divert your attention from a story's solution, unskilled focusing on a minute detail and then not going anywhere with it tends to distract your reader. It's a little bump in the content that with enough others will send them off on another direction.
Like the little jumpy kid in kindergarten, you need to remember to stay on task. Focus on ruthlessly cutting out anything that does not directly propel your message forward, remembering always that marketing writing is not, nor should it ever be, creative writing.
The phrase “it's the devil is in the details” seems to apply here. Think about it, if that company had removed the deer and just shown the aftermath of a car having hit a fallen boulder, I might be able to tell you what was being sold.
Instead, because someone wanted to get so much detail in, so much realism in a situation that didn't call for realism, all they ended up doing was losing their audience and in so doing lose potential sales.
About the Author:
A features writer, interviewer, and columnist, Wendy Thomas has been published in national magazines, newspapers, e-zines, and blogs.
Her current project is to blog about life living with 6 kids and a flock of chickens.