Thai Good Stories Best Ad

The Best Commercial of 2014

So with the end of 2014, and the annual “best of” series that most websites are handing out, I thought I would offer you the best ad of 2014 (in narrative excellence). 

So without further ado, Thai Life Insurance “Unsung Heroes” is the best commercial of 2014. 

As a commercial, the plot structure is tight, well produced, great copy and if you didn’t cry at the 2-minute mark you’d best go find a can of oil because your optic eyeballs need a tune-up you robot.

Thai Life Insurance ads tearjerkers are almost an ad genre on their own in commercials however Thai Life Insurance doesn’t have a monopoly on powerful narratives. In Southeast Asia, ads that go viral are the ones that appeal to base emotions, where people share to everyone in a shotgun blast rather than the more selective sniper strikes to friends and family like in the West. 

Even though it’s unlikely we won’t ever take out life insurance from Thailand (unless your from Thailand in which case life insurance is a awesome idea), 23 million hits on Youtube is a success virally, and undoubtedly Thai Life Insurance is doing quite well for itself for knowing how to craft a great narrative. 

And narratively it’s great not just for its story (again if it didn’t make you cry, robot) but weaved in its go-get-life-insurance message through through the narrative of how acts of kindness every day while not large on their own can pay off well in the future. And encapsulated in a situation that everyone from anywhere can connect to. 

Narratives in ads have always been a winning formula; for example even the Old Spice Commercial is a character development of the confident sexiness of the Old Spice Man). Even Google is no stranger to amazing ads (this one has 12 million hits so far)

Narratively: It emphasizes Google’s ability to bring people to connect with one another even across politics and time.

And as commercials featuring how awesome companies are and listing features aren’t as persuasive as storytelling as we connect with narratives. It’s the reason why reading fiction, develops empathy for others. Good content marketing is about enriching their personal narrative, so it’s not about the product but what the product can do to make their narratives a little happier. 

The Interview Marketing Stunt

Could “The Interview” Hack be a Marketing Stunt?

So with Kim Jong Un calling the shots in Hollywood and deciding that Sony will not release “The Interview” we have officially entwined pop culture with world politics. As exciting as it may be it’s just another  cotton-candy vomiting ride of Dear Leader, nukes, and crazy that North Korea is dragging us through. Sony has lost millions in revenue with the premature release of several movies as well as execs being incriminated with racist and sexist emails.

However, if there is one silver lining for Sony is that

  • Everybody now knows about the “The Interview”.
  • Everyone wants to watch it now that North Korea is banning it.

Pretty awesome benefit if there ever was one, but what’s the possibility that the whole thing was Sony orchestrated the whole thing as a marketing stunt?

Pretty nil, with the FBI and Obama saying North Korea was behind it, making it a bit too geopolitical for a pair of stoners and their fancy suit handlers, (unless Sony promised to use Obama’s ideas for 23 Jump Street) however how would it play out if the world is being controlled by a bunch of clever chaps instead of some fat idiot with too much power in his hands?

Sony’s Motivation

The Interview Rotten Tomato Score

As interesting as the premise of assassinating Kim Jong Un is, it’s received middling-reviews by reviewers, by most analysts would have flopped internationally and likely would have just died quietly and added to the Rogen film collection.

The only thing the movie had going for it is it’s premise, and marketing it using a meta-narrative as a movie of assassinating Kim Jong Un almost assassinated by Kim Jong Un, is brilliant to be crazy.

It has grabbed the attention of the world and crafting this sense of realism the absurdity of a nation state trying to play Hollywood critic will always grab the news. Heck, if they do release it I wouldn’t put it past Obama to hold a private screening just as a screw you North Korea.

And being hacked is the only plausible way for the movie to be targeted, so how would it work?

The North Korean Hack job    

North Korean Hackers

Given the Kim’s family love for movies and that it was about killing Kim Jong Un “The Interview” was going to be threatened by North Korea. So blaming them would not have been difficult and if Sony did orchestrate a hack job as a marketing stunt, here’s what they could have done.

  • Had “chunks” of movies released i.e. first half-hour enough for the plot to get interesting, or movie without the audio, or a poor-quality version, any form that made the movie watchable but would leave the viewer wanting to watch the “official” versions
  • Emails that revealed personal, embarrassing but sfw details of the cast, crew and execs that humanized them, dropped some behind the scenes of the movie, and hints of future movie ideas being created.

While unconventional it would have created a further sense of realism for an interactive marketing campaign and more creative than getting a Denny’s breakfast.

What now?

The Interview Seth Rogen & James Franco

Sony’s announcement that they would not be releasing “The Interview” is not permanent for several reasons.

Sony is going to keep tabs on events such as Obama promising a “response” to North Korea’s hack, and with rumours of The Interview being released on Crackle, this story is far from over. Despite Sony just wanting to walk away from all this with damage control in mind, the combination of geopolitics and pop culture creating “The Interview” awkward, but powerful meta-narrative has made it a marketer’s wet dream: Becoming the most talked about movie of 2014. I for one will be watching this story with great interest and hoping that the next time a movie becomes this talked about again, it’s because of a clever interactive marketing campaign rather than politics gone petty.

League of Legends Narratives Feature Image

How Narratives can Explain League of Legends’ Popularity

It’s well-established that video games have become incredibly popular from Flappy Birds to the GTA series, one such genre is the online multiplayer like League of Legend. 

From its humble origin as a Warcraft 3 mod played in computer science classes to a prize pouch of a $1 million in the League of Legends World Championship League of Legends has ascended far where according to Forbes, League of Legends has become the most played PC game in North America and Europe with 1.3 billion hours of gameplay by gamers.

My theory?  Because League of Legends creates a hero narrative for its player, providing a motivation and obstacles, distilling one of our most addicting narratives in its most playable form.

Character Motivation

League of Legends Champions

The gameplay is quite simple, you are a “summoner” and control “champions” aka any elf, warrior, undead, fantasy roster along with a team of “champions” and have to fight through the opposing champion team and their spawning minions to destroy the opposing team’s “Nexus” aka what churns out the minions. In terms of motivation it’s not exactly Oldboy but it in terms of video game narratives it isn’t much simpler than defeat Bowser and save Princess Peach and Mario is one of the most successful franchises of all time.

One of the essential elements of any well-developed character is motivation. Captain Ahab’s motivation is killing Moby Dick, Jay Gatsby’s motivation is to get Daisy it’s what defines their actions and character through their story. Likewise, other MMO’s like World of Warcraft needs missions and even expansion packs to keep their subscribers playing.

While League of Legends is always updating with new content, it’s core gameplay always provides the motivation for their players to play again and again. However, it can’t be the only reason for players to play which is why they have…

Character Development

League of Legends Levelling Up

It’s been scientifically proven that when we achieve something our brain awards us with dopamine; video games and dopamine are strongly connected. When get five in a row in Candy Crush or bumping up to A-list celebrity in Kim Kardashian is an achievement that our brain believes we should be rewarded with. In League of Legends killing enough champions, minions, and towers leads to experience points which mean stronger champions, more customization and another dose of dopamine to keep you playing.

While most characters in popular media aren’t exactly all about killing minions to get physically stronger, we are invested in their story as they seek to overcome the obstacles and develop as people. For example as awesome as Indiana Jones may be as a character if the Nazis hadn’t gotten involved, a bullwhip wouldn’t have done much good at an archaeological dig site.

By being able to level up meaning more powerful champions and customization to suit, their game style players are invested to keep trying to win the next battle. However, it’s just not League of Legends that can make use of narratives. 

Narratives in Marketing

Dark Knight Viral Campaign Harvey Dent Website

Understandably there are other reasons why League of Legends is so popular: a massive variety of champions to play, appealing visuals, and well-paced gameplay, however it’s core game of motivation and development that can be applied elsewhere.

This is especially true in interactive marketing.

For example, the success of “The Dark Knight” could be tied in with it’s fantastic interactive marketing campaign leading up to the movie. During this interactive campaign

  • Websites like, which blurred real the fictional Batman Universe, posted updates and informed fans of trailers, news and how to participate in events i.e. real-life games.
  • Real-life games such as committing a series of crimes and tasks while wearing Joker makeup at Comic-Con with a winner at the end.
  • Unconventional prizes such as Joker masks or a copy of “The Gotham Times” newspaper.

By involving the fans in the upcoming narrative of the movie, it led to an opening weekend of more than $150-million and the highest-grossing movie of 2008.

While a dedicated batman fans and ones excited in participating in a Batman movie campaign will overlap; a strong core of supporters willing to promote and share to their social contacts is something that is always a good thing for any marketer.

It’s getting potential customers invested in the story to be given motivation to try and ways to merit a sense of achievement for trying. As people will always think themselves as the hero in their own narrative by making your own narrative theirs, they will be your heroes.

Rob Lowe DirectTV commercial

How Rob Lowe selling DirectTV is a Narrative in Redemption

To be in a DirectTV commercial with a redemption narrative would be a odd choice for Rob Lowe. He seems more like the guy you would stick in a billboard that needed a generic middle-class white guy with a Hollywood smile. However it’s that generic middle-class white guy that is the target audience for a commercial series that Rob Lowe stars in along with various flavours of himself: creepy, scrawny arms, hairy crazy, less attractive, and painfully awkward Robe Lowe.

The purpose of these commercials is to convince cable-users to switch to DirectTV, and by using Rob Lowe playing himself as a comparison of two different people, this ad becomes genius for evoking the narrative of decisions and redemption.

I coulda been a contender

The “I coulda been a contender” line is one of those movie quotes that has transcended it’s movie (if you can guess the name of that movie, then yah for you and have your daily dose of smug self-satisfaction). However the point of that quote is Marlon Brando (yes hint for you, Marlon Brando stars in it) is upset for how his life turned out if it wasn’t for one pivotal night.

In Rob Lowe’s commercials all his comparisons are emulations of what Rob Lowe would have been if he had not exercised enough, succumbed to hiding-in-the-bush-wanking tendencies, had never learned to be confident, been too lazy for personal hygiene. All failures that the target audience fear could happen to them. 

Redemption is out there

Everyone loves a good redemption story. In “The World’s End” Simon Pegg’s character sets the plot events in motion in order to relive his glory day and in his own way to start his life over again (spoiler alert: he succeeds in a roundabout way). In real life while it did not happen, the possibility of a Rob Ford redemption narrative when he returned from rehab was frequently raised by the news.

The point of commercial is to get the target audience to switch from cable to DirectTV and while the ad doesn’t do a perfect job of that (that Rob Lowe seems to be a alternate-dimension traveller doesn’t seem to help) that it plays up the possibility that painfully awkward Rob Lowe can be confident Rob Lowe is a redemption narrative that the audience can be invested in.

Target Audience

Rob Lowe is the white middle-classed middle-aged guy who epitomizes the audience. Even the settings portrays various locations of the audience, where Rob Lowe lives in various forms of success, surrounded by friends, in nice hotels or living rooms and the other Rob Lowes all seen screwing up in their lives. It sets up a perfect comparison for the audience to see how they compare to their idealized life (attractive Rob Lowe) or to their insecurities and failures (failure Rob Lowe). For creating a narrative of choices and redemption, not bad for a 30-second TV commercial. 

Fergusen Riots

How Darren Wilson killing Michael Brown incited Ferguson

If you haven’t been keeping up with the news, Darren Wilson has escaped prosecution for the death of Michael Brown and Ferguson is rioting. With international protests reacting to the failure of the grand jury to indict Darren Wilson, this narrative has already reached proportions not seen since the Trayvon Martin shooting. But why?

Article Fergusen- People Protesting Michael Brown

Why has the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, received so much attention?

To start, here’s how the typical white cop kills black man narrative goes.

  • White cop(s) kills Black man.
  • The news has a mild uproar, with police brutality, crime, and racial profiling being bandied about by different viewpoints.
  • The characters of the killer and the victim are explored in biased and exaggerated detail.
  • The cop(s) are charged minor crimes or not charged at all (many are forced to resign).
  • News dies down until the next killing.

And this narrative has occurred with depressing regularity, lasting on a couple weeks. However the Darren Wilson killing Michael Brown narrative is special because it happened in Ferguson. A community where a mostly white police force is policing a mostly black community, has a history of racial profiling, and a severe lack of trust between the two groups. Then protests in Ferguson are met by the racial politics of the United States and now the Ferguson will be synonymous with the riot and it’s two citizens Michael Brown and Darren Wilson.

But Fergusen isn’t about Darren Wilson or Michael Brown. They were just the inciting incident to expose their community and the tensions underneath.

Match symbol of Inciting Incident

Let me explain, a narrative can only begin with a inciting incident (except for Boyhood, when just existing helps) that introduces the narrative’s problem to shake up narrative’s characters and setting puts them on the plot’s path. Imagine the match above is the inciting incident, the rest of the story is the barrel of TNT and the explosion. However while inciting incidents are the start, they are only there to bring forth the weight and depth of characters and the world they live in.

Take World War 1. Anarchist kills a high-ranking leader, and boom, the greatest war the world and seen at that point.

World War 1 Trench Warfare

Here’s the thing, there have been assassinations in the past, prior to Gavrilo Princip’s dumb luck. However the causes of World War 1 had been building up since at least 1870 and all Gavrila knew was that his gunshot was answered by four years of gunfire that nearly broke the world.

However inciting incidents are not lucky breaks. Unconsciously, we understand that a inciting incident is needed to justify the inception of any narrative we want to have, i.e. the Gulf of Tonkin Incident led to the Vietnam War. More recently, the Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar by ISIS were just a manufactured inciting incident. 

Yazidi Refugees

The Yazidis were not better or worse than the other groups being attacked by ISIS, nor their suffering any worse than the atrocities that ISIS or for that matter any faction within the war were committing. However there plight was used by Obama to justify launching airstrikes against ISIS (the Yazidi have been saved, for now anyways) , a mission that is expanding and doesn’t seem to have an end in sight.

Narratives need a inciting incident to start, you can’t burn down a forest until you have a match. And as for Ferguson, let’s hope this narrative plays out differently than the ones before, however unlikely it may be. 

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