Mike Myers Sears Commercial Feature Image

Why the Mike Myers Sears commercial is a Narrative in Self-Awareness

As a comedian, Mike Myers is bosom buddies with self-awareness and taking the fourth wall with a sledgehammer. He also has a brother, Peter Myers, who has worked at Sears for 32 years as a text shot in a new Sears commercial is quick to remind us. Yes Peter Myers is most assumedly the only reason why Shrek would do a commercial for a failing retail giant. If you haven’t watched it yet, it’s only a minute long.

Killing the elephant before it gets in the room, it’s one of the most self-aware commercials ever made. Awareness of Sear’s declining fortunes and awareness of the Myer brother’s reasons for being in the commercial. Mike Myer’s reason is literally the hashtag #mybrotherworksatsears that Sears is promoting, and the commercial plays it like a kitten on a rubber mouse. 

“Brotherly” Banter

A lazy hack would have just had Mike Myers acting as a spokesperson for Sears and supporting his brother in the most straight-way possible. Awful. Here’s what we get instead.

Sears Commercial Peter Myers

“Do you know anything about the retail business?”

Sears Commercial Mike Myers

“Not a lot… just that Sears Canada has to demographically and psychographically alter the  trajectory of its business model… but that would just be a wild guess.”

Besides barbs of the Mike Myers alien UFO sex diet, there’s no personal banter between their relationship. Only them playing that the reason why they are there is Sears in trouble + Mike Myers star power + Peter Myers connection = hopefully we’ll still be employing Peter Myers next year.

Staring At Us

The Myers brothers carrying us through the ideal version of Sears, with products hearkening back to their glory days almost makes it nostalgic. The whole product tour is almost a cliche for retail commercials but it works here to be poked at.

Sears Commercial Mike Myers staring into camera

When Mike Myers keeps making aside glances even as he and his brothers dance around the issue of Sears, its Austin Powers telling us yeah “I am totally aware that I’m just spouting the script and that corporate suits are aware that I am aware that you are aware and Aaaarrrgghh SELF-AWARENESS OVERLOAD!! (not really, but the fourth wall is leaned on pretty hard).

The “Actual” Commercial

What’s funny is that we don’t see the actual “camera” or “set” when the Love Guru does the “actual” camera like Mike already knows the camera has been following him and his brother. The old Sears Jingle (and the only funny bit in the commercial) is the old and failing Sears and the simpler one of #mybrotherworksatsears is the new (and hopefully) profitable Sears.

Sears Commercial My Brother Works at Sears

And with this new take, the title backdrop of the Sears and the forefront of the text is genius. Genius because it becomes the narrative that Sears is combining all the pretty nostalgia of it’s store with the self-awareness of trying something new.

Self-awareness in any narrative is a great way to (don’t overdo, otherwise your making self-parody) to be more conversational with us, the viewer/listener/reader. By taking using self-awareness trope, Sears was able to pre-empt any thought that calling in Mike Myers was a desperate move to save their failing business, and that it’s acknowledging current woes and it’s moving forward somewhere positive (hopefully with more Shrek and less Love Guru).

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The Other Side Feature Image

The OtheR side: Car commercials & Dual narratives

The OtheR side is a narrative accomplishment for car commercials. Often car commercials are often sleek cars driving on long winding roads with a suspicious lack of exits or set in weird anthropomorphic apocalypses. Flashy but derivative. Which is why Honda’s commercial for it’s  Civic model/Civic Type R Concept cars, (created by Creative Agency, Weiden+Kennedy London) is so amazing. Amazing for it’s feature: when pressing and holding “R” on your keyboard, the video switches another video.

You can watch the full experience here. (Please do, I’ll wait).

Finished it? Great isn’t it, so no guilt if I spoil it for you. But the OtheR side isn’t just great for it’s fantastic narrative but in it’s powerful use of interactive storytelling but highlights one of storytelling trope: the Double Life for the driver/the foil for the Civics. (while I be abusing the slash? hell yes).

 

The foil

A car commercial needs a car; otherwise it would just be a well-dressed man hitchhiking along a road. Notwithstanding the finer technicalities of the two cars Honda is promoting, at least there is a difference in car colour (which is further heightened by the daytime/nighttime. However the commercial does a great job focusing on the smaller features from the volume control to a Econ button, it provides a great contrast, or foil between the two cars and the different purposes they function for.

Honda Civic DayHonda Civic Type R Night

The second element of great car narratives is that it is the ultimate car narrative. Taking passengers on a journey from point A to point B. Where is the car taking the driver and his kids/thieves? A safehouse? A museum? The anticipation of the journey’s end is what engages visitors and has us watching to the end.

 

The Double Life

The commercial also plays into two common narratives of the car commercials. The first narrative  is ideal joe just going on with his ideal life, driving his ideal daughters, from school with his ideal car.  The second narrative is the more actionable sequence of exciting joe doing something exciting which needs his exciting car to be exciting. However by combining these two familiar narratives together the happy father/getaway driver now becomes a multi-dimensional character, invoking the Double Life trope.

Getaway driverFamily man driver

Now with the same character, one playing a longer hair version of Ryan Reynolds from “Drive” and as a dotting dad, it’s only natural to ask, do his kids know their daddy is moonlighting as a getaway driver? And where is he taking them? Playing the two narratives together only makes us engage with the driver and identify with him/want his car(s). 

 

Interactive narrative

Any director worth their salt could have directed this commercial, with scenes cutting back between the two stories for dramatic effect. However, by giving the control of direction to the viewer, they now won’t just watch it, but are more engaged in the experience, switching back between stories whenever they are bored, or to marvel at the contrast between the two stories.

Article-The Other Side Surprise Day_ModifiedArticle- The Other Side Surprise Night_Modified

And the contrast is marvellous, not just with the camera shots (an achievement that deserves applause in itself) such as the double twists of the police set-up or the costumed party. The Egyptian motif was a interesting one (maybe it’s a tie to the Double Crown of ancient Egypt that unified the upper and lower kingdoms together. I don’t know.) The contrasts only plays up the credibility of a proper narrative rather than just another car commercial.

 

Conclusion

Honda Civic Type R Honda Civic

Whether it’s catching museum thieves or surprising your daughters with a Egyptian-themed surprise party it’s all enjoying the new Honda. It’s about pulling the contrasting experience that the customer can imagine them being Honda is able to deliver. The ending of the exchange of cars tied up the ending like a birthday present’s bowtie. Which act did the father do first? It doesn’t matter, the car looks fantastic either way.

Fat Superheroes

Why the superhero genre may have just been set up for narrative failure

comicalliance.com

comicalliance.com

Recently the internet was introduced to this infographic of upcoming superhero movies and cinematic universe creations that is Hollywood’s ambition for the next 6+ years. Yes it looks like an awesome idea right now. However this is akin to what everyone had in mind calling the Titanic “Unsinkable”. Not that there is anything wrong with creating a superhero universe franchise (See Marvel Cinematic Universe as the greatest idea Hollywood has done so far). However in terms of creating a Universe narrative, declaring their plans so far ahead may bite them in the head because

This is an idea not reality

The first step for creating a story is having a rough outline, even a vaguest idea of it’s concept before the first words are typed out.

Hollywood is essentially giving out their outline for superhero universes. While announcing a film totally makes sense for a film set to be released in a couple years i.e. Toy Story 4 coming out in 2017, (aka why we can have too much of a good thing), by the time of the announcement, directors and actors who signed up for the project, plans for when production is to start and other substantial things for the movie’s go-ahead. This probably hasn’t happened yet for at least half of these movies. This is not a problem on it’s own except that

Reduces their Flexibility

Storytellers understand that a guideline for the story is just that… a guideline, not a rulebook. As the story develops, characters are dumped, new ones develop and often most of the initial ideas are dumped for the few good ones. This happens a lot with TV series, especially with characters, Note: that whenever the creators  announce a new TV series at major cons they NEVER announce how many seasons there will be to the fans.

There’s a reason why writers when talking about outlines, they don’t release all the details. True we all knew there would be seven Harry Potter books, or that George R.R. Martin has declared a end to his Game of Thrones series. Yes it could be argued that that has as much detail as the infographic above, however these franchises have endings. It’s clear that Marvel, DC, FOX intend to play up the superhero genre until it’s tits drop off. While it can be argued that Superhero universes aren’t exactly an overarching plot, and that each hero has their own story that can be developed, however there are connections between the characters and by declaring what order the stories are being told, Hollywood is limiting what they can do, and this loss of flexibility is only detrimental because

Movies are a ridiculously expensive form of storytelling

Stories are flexible, if you want to create a character kill off your darlings, anything can happen. Post your story on a blog whatever you want. Not when you actually want to make a profit for it, books have to be printed and paid for, designers have to be paid to code the video game worlds, all this costs money and is an investment. It only gets more complicated with franchises (see the logistics of the Game of Thrones books and TV series for how hard it can be). Movie franchise are another heaping of difficulty.

What happens if one of the primary actors i.e. Robert Downey Jr. gets killed by a escaped zoo animal, whose going to replace Iron man? (rhetorical question, only Robert Downey can be Iron man)

What happens if people get excited for steampunk genre and stops seeing superhero films because everyone thought the Black Panther looked suspiciously like a man in a gimp suit?

Will it be possible?

Yes it is possible that all these movies can be made and they could be profitable. Superhero movies have been pretty good so far (so long as you forgot Superman Returns, The Green Lantern, Wolverine Origins, oh shut up)

But stating your plan for so far ahead is setting up a very high expectation, an expectation that no fan had really expected and asked for, but now they are all expecting because Marvel got cocky and the rest of Hollywood couldn’t resist playing keeping up with the joneses.

Right now Superhero movies are profitable, and good business decisions have led them this far. Let’s hope this luck continues. 

Headline Boyhood

Why “Boyhood” utterly destroys one of the rules of storytelling

It’s not every day that one of the tenets of good storytelling is proven wrong, but Richard Linklater’s magnum opus “Boyhood” does just that. “Boyhood” chronicles the life of Mason Jr. from age 5 to 18, the film famous for taking 12 years to film, to use the same principal actors for its entire production. (It’s a great film, go watch it).

However what makes “Boyhood” so mind-blowing is its lacks a defined beginning, middle and end.

Freytag's PyramidLet me explain, for those who slept through high school English class. Freytag’s pyramid is one of the ways for how a story is supposed to be structured. Stories don’t have to follow Freytag to the letter, but stories without an arc either have misleading beginnings (deceiving the reader) have nothing happen in the middle (boring the reader) and/or have a weak anti-climatic ending (disappointing the reader) or it was written by Richard Linklater.

By breaking one of these fundamental rules (and succeeding) Boyhood is able to re-teach us the definition of narrative.

Beginning

Taking the story of Hamlet as an example, the beginning we establish that Hamlet’s mom, Gertrude, has married his uncle, Claudius who is kinged following the death of Hamlet’s father. We are introduced to his romantic life, his friends, and the inciting incident when he learns from his ghost dad that he needs to kill his uncle because his ghost dad wants to be the one to start the real ass-whupping on ghost Claudius. Thus begins the most convoluted attempt at revenge possible.

Boyhood Mason Jr growing up

Boyhood begins with six-year old Mason Jr. staring at clouds. We learn about his relationship with his older sister, the struggles his single-mom faces raising them, and of his father’ attempt to bond with his kids. However while there are problems in Mason Jr.s life (i.e. his mom’s struggling to provide for them) there is no inciting incident to start the overarching plot.

Middle 

Back to Hamlet, the middle portion of the play races around establishing Hamlet’s attempts to expose and kill Claudius and his inevitable screwups i.e. killing the counselor, Polonius, not killing Claudius when he had the chance, driving his girlfriend to suicide, all culminating to a duel  to the death with Laertes, Polonius’s son, in the presence of all the main characters.

Boyhood life's moments

“Boyhood” doesn’t build on an escalation of connected scenes, but on the character growth, both mentally and physically, of the principal characters through the moments in their lives i.e. when the childish antagonism of Mason and his sister, Mason Sr. remarrying and birthing another child. True there are mini-arcs such as the marriage and divorce of Mason’s mother’s second husband. But said arcs are not the defining focus that makes up Masons growth in his life. 

End

Boyhood Ending

Hamlet ends spectacularly, with an epic sword fight between him and Laertes and the death of every principal character (except Hamlet’s friend, Horatio because someone has to survive to tell the story). Having the main character die is one of the most effective ways of ending the story short of saying a witty quip after blowing up the villains lair with the sexy girl on one hand and a martini in the other.

“Boyhood” ends with Mason Jr arriving at college, chatting up a girl. Then it ends, in a smash-cut to black. Yet it doesn’t feel like an ending, only another scene of Mason’s life because we have been led by the story of Mason’s life and it is far from over.

What it means for us

A 100% rating on Metacritic says one thing, that the work is great. And by this success, Richard Linklater has hit on, maybe not the future, but another definition for narratives.

Life as Mason puts it is about how “the moment seizes us”. “Boyhood” is about life’s moments, moments that never develop to be more important than the other but as another step leading to serve the narrative as a whole.

Company narratives

Companies that talk about crafting their company “narrative” or creating stories for their customers should realize that any company growth, any development of a customer relationship, is not thinking about singular events as the defining moments of success. It’s working to make the many small (positive) moments that build up and maintain a sustained narrative that will appeal to their customers.

Order of the Stick Headline

Take for example Order of the Stick, a webcomic that Kickstarted more than $1 million out of an original goal of only $50 thousand. It wasn’t luck, or having the right donation/reward ratio, that were the cause of Burlew’s success, but nine years of creating high-quality page after page, delighting his readers to keep on reading and inviting their friends to be invested in his story. Even after Burlew’s success, he didn’t rest on his laurels but continues creating his story, and selling hard print copies

“Boyhood” is the hallmark of the modern-day narrative, this “sustained narrative” if you will, so when the moments are seizing us, can we seize them back?