For some time now, I have been amassing a loose mental list of the most overworked advertising/cinematic devices, the ones that need to stop now. At the head of the list, we have the “Needle Scratching a Record When Something Unexpected Appears Onscreen” device. A typical scenario might show us a man walking down the street, starting with his feet. As he walks, some sensuous, pulsing music beats in time with his footsteps, as in the opening of Saturday Night Fever. The camera works its way slowly up his lean body, until it reaches his face where see that he is in fact a goofy-looking, toothless old man [sound of needle scratching a record]. First of all, few people even own turntables anymore, but more to the point, it’s a tired device that needs to be put away. Can I get an ‘Amen!’ out there?
Next, we have the “Same Two Words Spoken By Many Different People” device. It’s a series of quick cuts. It will be people of different races, ages, genders, etc., to show us the universality of the message. Perhaps the phrase will be, “I switched.” After hearing about half a dozen different people say it, the last person finally finishes the sentence, telling us what they’ve all switched to. By that time, though, I’ve usually switched – to a different channel.
The final example I’ll offer is the “Split Screen That Isn’t a Split Screen” device. Suppose it’s an ad for a breakfast cereal. On one side is our happy hero, eating their Special K at their sunny kitchen table. On the other side is the poor doofus eating Cereal X in their dingy kitchen. Near the end of the ad, the Special K eater suddenly reaches across to the other table and hands the other person a box of Special K! Surprise! They’re both in the same studio! Oh, I thought they were in two different rooms! Oh, how clever! … Oh, how tired and overdone.
There are many other examples of this sort of thing. You might even have a few pet peeves of your own in this area. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable when I say that I want to see more creative commercials. After all, considering the sizable portion of most broadcasts devoted to advertising, as well as the billions of dollars spent on it, I think we’re entitled to something with a bit more flair and originality. And besides, a better ad just might help sell the product, so I’m not just being selfish here; I’m trying to help!