In my experience, it is the first line of books that sets the tone and makes a book memorable. Here are some specific examples from memorable books of my life:
– “It’s not about you.” (The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren)
– “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…..” (A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens)
– “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (The Bible)
– “Life is difficult.” (The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck)
– “We begin life with loss.” (Necessary Losses, Judith Viorst)
– “I have always lied to my mother. And she to me.” (My Mother, Myself, Nancy Friday)
– “Once upon a time…..” (Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Brothers Grimm)
But with television commercials, it is usually the last line that defines the memorability. Two that are particularly noteworthy right now to me are the current Progresso Soup commercials.
One is a maid of honor talking via the “soup can phone” to a soup chef at Progresso about how few calories are in the soup and at the end the chef says, “Don’t you like your dress?” The camera goes to a wide shot of the maid of honor in a garish green dress with ruffles and layers and an oversized plum colored bow reminiscent of a costume from a B-rated movie set in the Civil War era and she says, “I love my sister” with a particularly poignant inflection that clearly communicates her conflicted feelings between the dress and the relationship.
The other Progresso Soup commercial is a strong, grey-haired black female advising the Progresso Soup chef that she forgives Progresso for making soup that tastes just like her homemade soup and in the end she says, “I’m watching you, soup people!” with a sternness that would put anyone on notice.
It is the way in which so much is communicated in the final line of most commercials that seems to fill them with such power, as is intended by the creative teams of the best ad agenices, I’m sure.
Commercials are such a precise style of writing. Because the time is so brief and the need for staking a claim to one’s “top of mind” awareness is so great, they are particularly noteworthy. Since my husband, Bill, worked in television broadcasting sales for 30 years, the revenue from commercial placement within television programming was our family’s livelihood. We got used to paying particular attention to commercials…..Bill to make sure they ran in the proper timeslots, the rest of us to note what was being sold……not just on Superbowl Sunday but every day! When TIVO came along we were appalled that people would actually want to screen out or skip through the commercials….they were often more entertaining than the programming!
Easily recognizable cultural icons have arisen from among the millions of commercials we have watched:
– Mr. Whipple
– The Aflac duck
– The Michelin man
– The Pillsbury Dough Boy
– Aunt Jemima
– The Victoria’s Secret “angels”
– Mr. Clean and many others
Bill’s been out of broadcast sales for six years now and we still are entertained by commercials. There are now online sites one can go to watch and rate commercials! They have become their own art form and coveted “ ADDY” awards are given for the most creative ones.
I have difficulty thinking like a commercial copywriter. My punch lines require too much “set up”. Everything becomes more of a story than a storyline. And many times, by the time I get to the end, I’ve lost the listener.
Hello? Hello? Are you still there? (Finale shot: Me: With two Progresso soup cans and string)