5 things I hate about TV commercials (#4)

#4: Weak connections between the hook and the pitch

This one is a little more specialized and can be easy to miss. But once you notice it, it will drive you crazy because it happens so frequently.

Most TV commercials contain a hook, a pitch, and a close. The hook is the introductory sentence or two meant to capture your attention (and keep you from going to the fridge). The pitch is the main part of the commercial. The close finishes it off memorably.

Good commercials tie the hook, the pitch, and the close all together. Bad commercials (like the one you’re about to see) tie just the hook and close together and leave the pitch on its own.

The hook (-0:30 to -0:27) goes like this: “My son lives on a boat, how original”.The pitch (-0:26 to -0:08) discusses how the detergent gets rid of grease.The close (-0:07 to -0:00) completes the story with a “boat sweet boat” joke.

Now here’s the part I hate: the connection between the hook and the pitch is the word “original”, and has nothing to do with the boat (which is the true substance of the hook). After the mother says “original” in reference to her son’s choice of home, the father picks up the word and uses it to describe dinner. Then that carries the viewer into the pitch by implying the daughter-in-law’s meatloaf might be difficult to clean if it weren’t for the detergent. The hook is referenced again only at the close.This is poor commercial writing at its finest because there is no relationship between the hook and the pitch. The hook is “tacked on” as if it was written as an afterthought… as if a bunch of marketers were sitting around a room looking at a decent pitch and saying to themselves, “It’s 4pm Friday. If we write a quick hook we can get out of here and beat rush hour traffic!”

Here’s how you know the hook is tacked on: The choice of home can be swapped out for anything as long as the word “original” is still there. The son and daughter-in-law can live in a tent, on the moon, or in a biodome at the center of the earth, and the advertisers could still pull off the weak connection because the word “original” is more important than the rest of the hook. In fact, the advertisers could have written a commercial about a mutant child ushering in an alien invasion and it would still work. (The mother might say, “My son has 8 arms and 3 eyes, and here come the martians… How original”). As long as the father picks up the “original” keyword in his sentence, the commercial can barrel forward in its story, completely ignoring the tacked-on hook.A better way to write any kind of advertising that tells a story like this is to tie the hook more closely to the pitch.

Dish detergent commercials that do this well don’t try to be clever with boat-dwelling children, but rather talk about the loads of greasy dishes left over from dinner. Laundry detergent uses a similar technique: The hook is a sloppy husband or child spilling something on their nice clothes, the pitch is the detergent getting it clean, and the close is the happy family once again. Yes, it’s a standard formula but it is so much more cohesive (and therefore, effective) than the story of the guy on the boat.

(On a side note, the father is REALLY concerned about the grease… and doesn’t he remind you of the millionaire on Gilligan’s Island?)

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