What Makes A Super Bowl Ad Super? Five Act Dramatic Form.

When I was an advertising copywriter I had an intuition about what type of ads worked and which did not, but mainly I and many of my colleagues stumbled into them. Sometime we would have a hit and other times we missed the mark. This pressure to perform becomes intense this time of year as over 111 million people tune into to watch a Super Bowl match between the top NFL teams, but also to watch the TV ads.

There are even advertising polls and show dedicated to which are the “best” ads. Being one of the best pays off in additional attention, views and buzz. The more buzz you get for the TV ad before and after the big game the more you are getting for the 4.5 million investment. It makes those 30 seconds go a lot further.

So what makes one ad more likable to finish in the top ten of USA Today Ad Meter versus the bottom ten? When I became a professor at Johns Hopkins University my research colleague Michael Coolsen from Shippensburg University and I asked ourselves that very question. Then we conducted a two-year analysis of 108 Super Bowl commercials to find the answer. Is it humor or emotion? Sex appeal or cute animals? What is the secret ingredient to helping ensure a Super Bowl commercial is liked and talked about?

Remember studying five-act Shakespearian Plays in high school? There was a reason Shakespeare was so popular and why he used to tell a story in five acts. It is a powerful formula that has drawn people’s attention for hundreds of years. Starting with Aristotle’s Poetics in 335 B.C., dramatic theory was first developed. Aristotle consider plot, having a beginning, middle and end, to be the most important element in drama – even more important than character. Much later, in 1863, German novelist and playwright Gustav Freytag developed his theory of dramatic structure advancing Aristotle’s to include a more precise five-act structure as seen below.

Freytag's Pyramid

We coded the over 100 Super Bowl ads in a two-year span for the number of acts developed in the commercial. Then we compared that number with the ratings number those commercials received in the top consumer Advertising Super Bowl Polls. After analysis we found a correlation between number of acts and higher ratings. In other words, the more acts in a commercial (a more complete story with a plot) the higher the ratings or likability. The results of the study were published in The Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice in the Fall of 2014. What about all those other factors like sex appeal, humor, emotion or animals? They didn’t matter. We found these variables all over. They appeared at the top and bottom of the polls with no discernible pattern.

Does story and likability sell? Likable ads are more likely to be viewed and shared multiple times increasing viral buzz and generating greater awareness. Other research has proven that online buzz increases ad recall, recognition and emotional response. The latest research claims a direct connection. Advertisers can buy consumer attention for those 30 seconds during the game, but when advertising hits social media, it is all about likability. People are drawn to and give their attention to story. Beyond Super Bowl ads where else have you seen story have an impact?

Twitter: A Fine Day To Start Again.

I was listening to Mark Schaffer discuss the update of his book The Tao of Twitter on Michael Stelzner’s podcast the other day and realized that I have been using Twitter all wrong for the past 6 years. Maybe I shouldn’t say ALL wrong. Twitter is one of my favorite social channels. I use it to stay connected with the latest developments in the industry and share valuable articles and resources with followers and via hashtags. I have even added it as required participation (#SocialMedia453) to my Social Media Marketing course at JHU.

Learning and sharing and finding are all part of Twitter, but the big piece I have been missing is real time conversation. No channel gets closer to real time socializing like Twitter. This is perhaps its greatest value and I have been missing out on it for 6 years! The closest I have gotten to this step is at conferences where I have had wonderful Twitter conversations with audience members of talks. I have found that the most meaningful professional relationships and opportunities tend to come from conferences where real time, in person conversations happen.

In Twitter I have had too much of a publishers mindset.  I have been viewing tweets as a set of blog posts that will be viewed somehow like a table of contents. I also worry about direct comments feeling out of context for others who see them. Now I am realizing that these thoughts are merely misconceptions. There are over 350,000 tweets sent per minute, 500 million tweets per day and around 200 billion tweets per year. A Twitter user on average has over 200 followers and follows over 100 people.  With this sheer amount of activity, rarely do we see someone’s stream in its entirety.

Twitter is not about more information or perfect information. Twitter’s strength is making mini one-on-one connections that can build up to more meaningful relationships. To do this we must cut through the clutter with real conversation. This is what Gary Vaynerchuk was talking about in The Thank You Economy. I know all these things. I’ve read the books. How did I miss it for so long?

As I have attempted to build up social media knowledge I have tried to be everywhere and learn everything. I have jumped on every new and old social channel and have tried to do it all. Do you do this too? Yet most of the social media experts tend to be experts in one or two channels. Generalists are few and far between. Community managers are hired to be active in one social channel. To be more effective and get greater results from what Mark Shaeffer calls, “The most popular real-time conversations in the world” we may need more of a focused approach.

Personally, this may mean letting go of some of the other channels for a while. For marketers this may mean cutting channels to the ones that make the most sense or dedicating people to individual communities. Really get to know what makes a specific channel tick and put that effort into each interaction. On Twitter, Shaeffer says it’s about “People sharing, connecting, teaching, and entertaining each other in the moment.” For Twitter tactics I turn to Jay Baer at Convince & Convert. He reports that 92.4% of all retweets happen within the first hour a tweet is sent out and he makes the following suggestions for success:

1. Find Influencers. Not all Twitter followers can amplify messages equally. Find the most influential followers and concentrate efforts there. Interact with them when you have something relevant and valuable to add to the conversation.

2. Repeat Tweets. Tap into multiple Twitter audiences throughout the day. Jay tweets posts 3 times a day with different headlines. Research suggests that the best times to tweet in general are 10am – 3pm – when most people are active on Twitter.

3. Test Tweet Times. Give yourself the best chance of being retweeted by knowing when influencers are on Twitter. Try different times, track response, and look for patterns. Or simply think about possible patterns in your audience’s day. Breaks between meetings, lunch, morning, night – when are they most likely to be on Twitter?

4. Manage Expectations. Only 6% of all tweets are retweeted. Don’t expect everything you send to get shared to the world. Focus on quality versus quantity. Build more one-on-one relationships that will build to more influence over time.

Shaffer says Twitter is the most powerful business networking system that has ever existed (via 140 characters) yet 60% of people who try Twitter quit after the first week. To truly get these benefits we must use the network the right way – the real time way.
For one last insight, Vaynerchuck’s latest book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook says, “link clicks do not create stories.” Real time conversation is about sharing stories. People are moved by stories. How do you use Twitter? Are you missing out on its greatest potential?