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  • Tom LaBaff

Buffalo Wild Wings - Secret Button


What made this spot so good? Buffalo Wild Wings “Hit the Button” - 22squared. This is the fifth in a series of articles where I deconstruct examples of excellent storytelling in contemporary advertising. (this week is an exception to the "contemporary" rule!)

Today is an interesting case study because the Minneapolis-based chain had/has a real problem: Why go to a sports bar to watch the game when many of their customers have nice couches and 4k TV’s at home?

Let’s go back to the source. The example I’m using here is the original idea for the “Hit the Button” theme that began in 2008. The campaign has been recently revived this year in a Super Bowl spot starring Brett Favre. The gimmick centers around the concept that Buffalo Wild Wings employees have the power to change the outcome of a game with a press of a button.

These are the kinds of simple - high concept log lines I love. They evoke nearly endless imaginative scenarios. Creatively speaking this is a dream project, but is it enough to get fans through the doors at BWW? The pain point: Compete with a crowd of 3200 other chicken wing restaurants across the U.S. The solution: Comically illustrate how Buffalo Wild Wings make games more exciting.

Goal, action, complication, resolution

As I’ve said before in this series, these are my four favorite words I turn to when I find myself handling a boring scene. I challenge you to test this theory. While binge watching those Game of Thrones episodes, pick a scene. Any scene. You’ll find at least three of the four. Sometimes it’s subtle. Sometimes "conflict" might be a better stand in for "complication," but they’ll be there. Like scrambling cockroaches when you flip on the kitchen light, you'll see them.

Let’s unpack this story:

In the first 5 seconds, the goal is laid down. The bartender overhears a customer (and football fan) tell his buddy he wants the game to go into overtime.

The action is quite complex. The bartender hits a secret button behind the bar that signals a maintenance worker at the game to turn on the sprinklers which complicates things for the defense.

Meanwhile, the running back slips all tackle attempts and scores a touchdown. This resolves the goal established in the first 5 seconds about overtime. It’s a lot to cram into a 30-second spot… but wait, I’m not done! After the logo and tagline, we come back to join the game and see the extra point is missed by the kicker because of more sprinkler hi-jinx.

I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I do know we can all hit a wall with our writing. Next time you do, run through this checklist. I have these four words written in the corner of my office chalk board. They stare down at me all day long as if they’re saying, "I’m right here when you need me."

Tom’s Press Play Test

The best way to see if an idea is landing is to test it. It’s easy to pitch an idea to your creative team when you can stand up and act your way through it with funny voices and props. But is the idea good enough without you there to talk it through? I draw out every story beat using stick figures, throw them in a timeline, record scratch voices and edit it down in Final Cut Pro. This animatic has to pass my "press play test!"

I then usually fire off this work in progress video to someone who has no clue of what I’m up to. Even better if this test audience is only tangentially involved in the creative business. I ask just one question: “Do you get it?” If it passes this test, I know I’m on to something that has potential. Your turn! What’s your creative process? How do you test ideas before you get into production? Let us know in the comments.