Story Appeal – Case Study

Behold this ad from Southern Comfort:

Funny, right?

This ad played at the beginning of a YouTube video, and I was instantly hooked. Unlike the millions of other pre-video YouTube ads I’ve seen, this one compelled me to watch. Maybe it was the direct, head-on eye contact right at the beginning. Or maybe the instinctual appeal of physically violent gestures that grabbed my attention. Or maybe it’s just that I really like the song that plays.

It doesn’t matter one bit that it has nothing to do with Southern Comfort– ads that are not descriptive are the norm at this point. What matters is that this ad grabbed my attention, and found a way to pull itself up from the countless boring YouTube ads that I’m compelled to watch every week.

This ad has what David Ogilvy calls “story appeal.” In his brilliant book about advertising imagery and copywriting, he says explains it this way:

The kind of pho­tographs which work hard­est are those which arouse the reader’s curi­ousity.  He glances at the pho­to­graph and says to him­self, ‘What goes on here?’  Then he reads your copy to find out.  Harold Rudolph called this magic ele­ment ‘Story Appeal,’ and demon­strated that the more of it you inject into your pho­tographs, the more people look at your advertisements.

Never mind that there is no copy to go along with this ad. Isn’t it obvious that it was designed purely to pique the viewer’s curiosity? You watch the video and there are so many questions unanswered: Who is this guy? Why is he doing karate? Why is he in a lady’s hair salon? Why is he so serious? Why do the women applaud, and not awkwardly turn away like normal people? Where the hell does he get that glass of SoCo? Any why is he drinking SoCo anyway?

The sole purpose of this ad was to prevent me from switching to another browser tab as I waited for my YouTube video to start, and it succeeded. I did exactly what Ovilgy suggested a good ad would make me do. I watched the ad from beginning to end because my curiosity was enganged and I wanted more information about the unusual spectacle that I was seeing. I never got it at the end, but it doeesn’t matter at all. The point is that I watched it and I know it was about Southern Comfort.

A better question might be: If I hadn’t studied this ad so thoroughly, would I remember that it was an ad for Southern Comfort? I’ve seen plenty of ads that I thought were funny, but there didn’t match the brand’s identity and although I might have remembered the ad long afterwards, I had no clue what it was actually trying to sell me.

My deep suspicion is that this ad would still have been effective. I would have remembered it as a SoCo ad, and not just a funny liquor ad. This karate guy is exactly the kind of man who I imagine would actually drink Southern Comfort. It has elements of quirky post-modernity, but it also looks like something that might have happened in 1976. In my mind, Southern Comfort is aesthetically equal to The Big Lebowski, and in that way, this ad is perfectly cohesive.

Nice work, Southern Comfort.

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