Beauty in its simplicity – a commercial actually worth watching

In a day and age where commercials proliferate the TV and web and good storytelling has gone the way of the dodo bird, it’s nice to see glimmers of hope that commercials can be used as a medium to not only promote a brand; but, tell a moving story.

It was over a beer with a colleague that I saw the Expedia commercial above. It was a crowded small local bar and the volume on the TV was barely audible over the happy hour revelers; but, the visuals stole my attention from my colleague deep in his conversation.

Not being able to hear the commercial peaked my interest even further. As we sipped the last few drops of our beers, said our goodbyes, I dashed to my truck to jump on my iPad and find the commercial I was so longing to hear.

Simple, powerful and breathtaking in its imagery, Expedia knocked it out of the park. As an avid storyteller, and as someone that loves to write about creative media, I was enthralled with the Expedia commercial. This is the life video should take for all brands – large and small.

Let’s take a look as to why this video is so powerful:
Instead of taking the obvious route for a travel commercial – a couple lounging on the beach, a family running around Disneyland in slow motion, Expedia decided to focus on the newer phenomena of socially conscious travel and follow a single individual on her life’s journey. The concept of starting with a young woman on a train listening to the ageless wisdom of her fellow passenger, her influencer, as he answers her unheard question is intriguing and thought provoking. We are captivated in the first 10 seconds by the unknown man’s voice and storytelling prowess. Another fascinating aspect of this commercial is the music. Most people do not realize; but, the music that intertwines with the visuals plays as much of a role as the visuals themselves.

Expedia going out on a limb was not afraid to journey into issues facing today’s generations head-on. In a matter of one minute, we move from excitement and joy to fear and concern and back again. All this while flashing through 20 – 30 years of the vibrant life of our main character. Who can’t remember that awkward kiss while on Spring Break, the fear and exhilaration of the unknown as we enter uncharted territory in our travels, the spark of new friendships. This commercial plays out more like a mini-documentary than a commercial; all the while, showing how Expedia can take us on our journey without forcing their brand down our throats.

Ending the story with the main character answering the unheard question from the beginning “what is the key?” is terrific as we have come full circle on the train where our character is now the influencer of the young man sitting across from her.

As a person that seeks out and interacts with a great deal of media, I can tell you that this commercial can have a profound affect on your business. How can you utilize Expedia’s marketing genius for your own business – even if we do not have a multi-million dollar budget?

1. Concept: When thinking of your business, do not always take the literal route. Instead of that “talking head” video, can a concept with deeper meaning and emotion be created. Expedia made a bold decision in moving away from the Disneyland going family and took the path less traveled. Instead of presenting bullet points about your service or product, think about how you can show your product or service from your customer’s vantage point. Can your product or service take on a life of its own? What if your product or service could speak about itself or tell its own story? What would it say? Can we focus more on the solution than the product or service itself?

2. Story / Scripting: We as humans are innate storytellers. We thrive on story. It’s what passes on our traditions, our beliefs and our culture. Why not remove the bland PowerPoint style video from your business and only focus on the power of your story. Like all good stories, we need a central character – our hero (it could be our customer, the product or even our business). Our hero needs a back story, to reach a point of struggle, a point of success, a point of resolution and a point of reflection or new state of being. Be creative in this process. Imagine your hero as Luke Skywalker or as Indiana Jones. Where does your story start? For Expedia, it was our young woman remembering back to the day she looked over her fence and saw a whole new world beyond her yard. Where does the story take the hero? Our young woman is journeying to Asia and explores the wonders of youth. Where did struggle come into play that needed to be overcome or resolved? Our young woman is confronted and challenged at the checkpoint when she sees a young man of her age holding a gun. What solution presents itself? Our young woman is no longer naive to the simplicity of youth and now takes on a new role as a volunteer. What does the solution provide our hero? She is older, wiser and world traveled. What is the reflection or new state of being? She is now in the role of the wise teacher and guide from the beginning of the story.

3. Visual Presentation: This is where most video media falls apart due to poor pre-production and lack of foresight as to how the visuals will prop up the story that is being told. The Expedia commercial nails the visual presentation squarely on the head. From the grandiose wide opening shot, to the amazingly well lit character shots, to the movement of the camera, this video is stunning. Here are some concepts you can use when you want to create a cinematic feel to video. First, always start with an establishing shot. In this video, that is the train and the sequence of our older gentleman talking with our hero. Notice at the :04 second mark how the camera shows the hair of our hero. This is not by accident, this is a setup shot to visually show the viewer that there are two people on the train conversing. Imagine that same shot without our hero’s hair? This sequence would be less impactful, as we now know that this is most likely a girl and she has red hair. Next we come to our flashback. We get a quick glimpse of our hero; but, we immediately start on her journey. As our hero’s journey continues, the video shots become faster paced always focusing on our hero and the external surroundings that will be affecting her on her journey. We also notice that the filming is a mix of hand held movement (without making us sea sick) and static camera views. There are a mix of shots throughout the video where we see the hero like we are an observer and shots where we are seeing the hero’s perspective (point of view (POV)). This constant shift of view allows us to deepen our sense of our hero and place us in her world. Finally, when we come back to the final train sequence, there is an interesting aspect that many will miss. If you watch closely, you will notice how the hero is still in her chair and she is answering the question of the young man that could very well be the older man from the beginning of the video telling the hero’s story. Subtle – yes. Powerful – definitely. Think differently about your business. How can it be visually represented without confining yourself to the four walls your business might be contained within. Can visual representation of your business be taken from a different point of view or a different perspective? How can you make your business visually stunning?

4. Music: The best videos allow music to compliment the visuals. In exceptional videos, music not only supports the video; but, moves the video along almost becoming indistinguishable from the video itself. In the Expedia video, the simple piano track provides motion to the video as it accelerates as the story builds, almost developing a sense of tension leading up to the finale. As the finale arrives, the music slows and the tone shifts to one of reflection and thoughtfulness. If you had to represent your business with music, what would it sound like? What type or form of music do you think your customers would hear your business as?

As we have seen with this Expedia commercial, your brand can be promoted through the use of intriguing concepts, powerful storytelling, awe inspiring visual presentation and emotionally charged music. Take into consideration these ideas when you consider your next video production.