Goldman has never written a commercial in his life yet you’ll learn more from his storytelling on how to write for the screen than you will from some advertising expert. And you’ll learn in a memorable and entertaining way – what could be better? There is one piece of advice he offers, in particular, about writing a scene that I love. || It’s a piece of advice that could be well employed by most writers: ‘Come in late, leave early’. || And Goldman’s not talking about the hours you keep. His point is that most writers leave nothing for the audience to do – the writer over explains. || When you write a scene, and it could be a screenplay or it could be a television commercial, whatever you do, you must leave room for the audience to participate. You have to get them engaged in the process – that way you’ll get them wanting more. || With screenwriting you move from scene to scene, twisting, turning and surprising, so predictability is the death of a screenplay, as it is for those of us who write television commercials.
If I can work out what’s coming why bother watching? Surprise is a fundamental factor in making something memorable.
Three main clients attended, the editor, publisher, and some bloke from distribution who kept talking about lorries and timetables! Well, he would, wouldn’t he.
We diligently went over the strategy with heads nodding enthusiastically, even the man from distribution. And then I revealed the line that captured their positioning. The Mail on Sunday: ‘Depth without drowning’.
There was stunned silence. Finally, the publisher said, ‘I hate it’. Every time I read the word ‘depth’, I see ‘death!’ This is not going well, I say to myself! No, no, no says the editor, that’s absurd. That’s what we do, provide news in depth. I foolishly think we’re back on track. Someone with a brain is thinking about this. And then he says, but I hate the word drowning. I have a fear of swimming. Jesus, I say to myself, I really am dealing with tabloid brains here. There are only three words in this line, what else can go wrong. So I turn to the distribution genius and say how do you feel about the word ‘without?’
When we launched Haagen-Dazs in the UK in the early 90s we were in the middle of a recession. Not the best of times to be launching a luxury ice-cream brand. We positioned the brand as a sensual pleasure. We didn’t compare it to other ice creams, in fact we hardly mentioned the word ice cream. But at £3 a pot it was not only accessible, it was the most stylish pleasure you could purchase. The brand took off. Haagen-Dazs weren’t in the ice cream business, they were in the sensual pleasure business.
Sadly, over time, a succession of brand owners dragged it back to the ice cream sector. Now it’s just one of a number of ice creams fighting for attention in the supermarket freezer. Imagine where they could have taken that brand had they realized the potential of where we had positioned it – they didn’t realize we’d created a fashion brand.
This was the case with our early work for Audi, and even by 1983 we were still struggling to establish the Audi’s German heritage in a way that was motivating and memorable. We’d written a number of commercials that were due to air but still needed a hook to tie them together.
I remember, on one of my trips to the Audi factory in Ingolstadt, seeing the line ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ on a fading piece of publicity. When I asked about it our guide dismissed it, saying it was an old line they used in the early 70s.
But it stuck in my mind. When it came to binding our different commercials together I thought, why not use this line? And, importantly, let’s keep it in German. Mad as that sounds…
Just because something’s new doesn’t make it better. And just because you can do something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should. We all know the advertising industry is obsessed with the word ‘new’, not just as a selling mechanism, but also a descriptor of its own corporate structures.
How many times have you read in advertising journals of the launch of a new agency with a new way of working? The advertising business is obsessed with the word ‘new’. Of course, ‘a new way of working’ with technology represents an embracing of evolving technologies and their opportunities, but sometimes in advertising we can behave like a child at Christmas who just keeps opening one present after another and never stops to play. It’s a case of: give me something new. New is good, old is bad. We talk about old technology as though it were bad and new as though it were virtuous. We need to have the wisdom to stand back and consider the gifts we’ve been given and how best to employ them.