The Process of Advertising: How to Make a Commercial

About the process of advertising, specifically the four parts necessary to a normal commercial, being the problem, solution, consumption, and resolution.

P. T. Barnum Was Right

By Edward A. Merlis

Many advertisements in the broadcast media, particularly television, can be divided into 4 parts. These might be denoted as: 1. the problem; 2. the solution; 3. the consumption; and 4. the resolution. Whether the advertiser is pushing pills, peanuts, or pens, he will often return to the basic 4. It's surprising how much can be condensed into a 30-second spot.

The "problem" is usually one with which we are all familiar--bad breath, unstartable cars, headaches. No matter what the "problem," the set designer or makeup man has succeeded in making a bad situation look worse. The young man with the bad breath is ugly; the unstartable car is old and dirty; the young mother with a tension headache, perhaps from watching too many commercials or thinking about her children's watching them, looks haggard and twice her age.

Next, our friends in the advertising community present us with "the solution." Whether it is a breath mint, an automobile battery, or a headache remedy, the genius of Madison Avenue combines with the skill of Broadway to present an image of the product which, upon rational analysis, is staggeringly ludicrous. Even a flash cube has been advertised as if it were the 8th wonder of the world. Which isn't so bad, until you realize that the public goes for it.

Next, our public disposition to being "turned on" is released by our benevolent advertising junkie. The act of "consumption" is presented with an almost reverent awe. The actors in our 30-second playlet are euphoric as they chew the breath mint, they dance ecstatically as they install the automobile battery, and they exalt the virtues of the wonder-drug aspirin. To some extent, our vicarious fascination with the bizarre has resulted in our becoming addicted to the inane. The advertiser knows of this fascination, for as the actor turns on, few of us tune out.

We have now arrived at the denouement. Phase 4 of this well-prepared and structured seduction, the "resolution" of the problem, is a relatively easy scene to produce. The homely young man who has consumed the breath mint walks off into the setting sun with his girl--his acne gone, his hair now combed, and his clothing stylish and neat. That old heap destined for the junk yard now starts with a feather touch; its convertible top is down, it has a fresh coat of paint, and an attractive blonde sits next to the driver as he motors off into the setting sun. our besieged mother of 3 has found her headache relieved by the wonders of science. Suddenly 10 years younger, she smiles approvingly as her hyperactive 4-year-old stops punching the crying 2-year-old, the one with the oatmeal in his hair. She walks off with her mud-stained 6-year-old--into the setting sun, of course.

The repetitive pattern contained in most advertising promises instant gratification through the tasting, swallowing, touching, hearing, and even simulated smelling of an extraordinary variety of material goods. No wonder critics have laid at advertising's doorstep blame for the erosion of our traditional value system, based primarily upon intrinsic rewards for effort, discipline, and responsibility. Thanks to our pals in the advertising business, we are all now equally subjected to the whims and whinings of the commodity pushers and junkies. Maybe that is why our values have changed.

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