Ads and Jokes

Advertising and comedy can't be faked. Both require a dodge around human skepticism in order to provoke a definitive next action. The sole job of an advertisement is the generation of the next action of the transaction. The one job of a joke is to provoke a laugh.

A response isn't enough. "That was an interesting ad." and "That joke had an unusual twist." -- without a ka-ching! or a haha! -- misses the point.

At the finest level of execution, advertising and comedy are among our highest arts. The creator and receiver engage in a dialectic that shows up as a real thing in the real world.

Being caught up in a transcendent experience is the defining characteristic of the greatest art. As a young man I found myself in front of Picasso's Guenica in New York City's MOMA where it was still in exile. I was transfixed for maybe an hour, and finally exhausted, I stumbled out into the streets of New York, unable to look at anything else.

Last fall, Betye Saar created an installation at the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena entitled "Drifting Toward Twilight." Upon walking into the space, I experienced an agency reversal and found myself confronting my mortality. I experienced a vision of drifting toward my death.

Agency reversal occurs when the artist subverts our free will. We are doing the action, but the action isn't under our willful control.

Last week, two transcendent art films aired. Both were presented as advertisements. One was for CeraVe and the other for Dunkin's. Both used the elements of farce. You may have seen them at the Super Bowl.

You may know CeraVe as a skin treatment using ceramides delivered by multivesicular emulsion technology.

I don't think I'm the only one who needed more explanation about what that is, so here it is:

"Ceramides are the major lipid constituent of lamellar sheets present in the intercellular spaces of the stratum corneum. These lamellar sheets are thought to provide the barrier property of the epidermis." Multivesicular emulsion technology is just what it says it is.

Don't just take my word for it. You can get the full description here.

While a few of us think nothing's sexier than reading about moisturizers in publications from the National Center for Biotechnological Information, CeraVe had a little over a minute to convince 125 million people watching the Super Bowl to delay a trip to the kitchen or bathroom to hear about their scientifically developed skin moisturizer, then go out and buy it.

To sell skin science, they used cognitive science.

Here it is: there's an easily demonstrated fact that if you confuse or baffle people a bit, you get their attention, and get their minds straining to understand what's going on. But that's not enough, you've got to quickly resolve the dissonance with a clear and simple reveal. When you start with complication, cut quickly to resolution, you create a surprising amount of trust and confidence. They don't blame you for the confusion, but rather trust you more for the relief from confusion and the resolved understanding. “Michael CeraVe” I CeraVe Super Bowl (Long Form).

As for the Dunkin's ad, the DunKings, back in the day, Dunkin's was the go-to place for my working-class breakfast of two plain donuts and a coffee with cream and sugar, known as a "regular coffee." Dunkin's hasn't changed much since then.

I don't know what they were trying for. I kinda think the agency reversal took over on them during the creation. In the vernacular of my Dunkin days, wicked stupid got sucked into a black hole and popped out wicked smart. Had me laughing out loud.

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