What the Budweiser and PETA Super Bowl ads can teach you about video storytelling

Super Bowl advertisers will spend $5 million to deliver a 30-second message to 63 million people this weekend. Because the ads are so expensive and the audience is so huge, we should be able to learn a thing or two about writing and video storytelling from these ads.  

If you spend a little time deconstructing the best Super Bowl ads you can learn a lot about video storytelling. That's what I will do for you here. 

We'll take two ads, one heart-warming and the other so shocking and controversial that it only ran online, and see how the agencies built their stories.  

Budweiser's ads often are my Super Bowl favorites. In the years past they relied on puppies and horses. Not this time. This time, Bud focused on how a brewery in Cartersville, Georgia, stopped production and packed up and shipped out 2 million cans of water to Americans caught in hurricanes, fires and floods.

The spot uses music, Ben E. King's "Stand by Me," and features a quiet hero who makes the call to transform the beer factory into a rescue resource.

Video storytellers can learn a lot from this ad. Watch how the story makes you "feel" something for the main character first, then the narrative switches to his action, then back to a reaction from the hero's wife. 

Without the first 16 seconds of set-up we wouldn't feel a thing at the end.

NBC rejected some ads this year because they were too controversial. One was related to a veterans group that used the hashtag #pleasestand, which may have been too much of a reminder of the NFL national anthem protests of 2017. The network has considered several ads too hot to handle over the years.  

The second story we will deconstruct is the PETA ad that features actor James Crowmwell. You remember him as the gentle farmer in the movie "Babe." Just as in some previous years, PETA produced an advertisement that the network would not run.  The National Chicken Council says Americans will eat 1.35 billion chicken wings over Super Bowl weekend. (That seems like an awfully large number.)  That's why the animal rights group used chicken farms as their target this time.  

The ad includes a range of lessons from the importance of character development, to action and reaction moments and it allows the viewer to form conclusions by building in silent pauses after big shocking moments. The ad also peppers the dark tone with dark humor.  I will show you how a few edits would have changed the tone of the ad considerably.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.

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