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A Boy. A Girl. And a Stick of Gum.

What made this spot so good? Wrigley “Give Extra, Get Extra” campaign BBDO/ 2:00 This is the ninth in a series of articles where I deconstruct examples of excellent storytelling in contemporary advertising.

When I first watched this, I cried.

A grown man, watching a two-minute commercial during the middle of the work day. About gum.

The challenge for the team at BBDO must have been: How can we tell a modern day love story without any Shakespearean structure? No jealous lovers, vengeful affairs, drug addictions, or bloody murder weapons. The only possible drama I could find in this narrative is that the protagonists might have an addiction to sugar.

The story follows a young couple from love at first sight to the marriage proposal. A good way to find out if a story idea has an engine is to sum it up in one sentence called a logline. These often start with “when” or “after” or “during.”

Some examples of log lines:

Reservoir of Dogs - After a simple jewelry heist goes terribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant.

American Beauty - During a mid-life crisis, a depressed suburban father, decides to turn his hectic life around after becoming infatuated with his daughter's attractive friend.

Silence of the Lambs - A young F.B.I. cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.

The best log line I could come up with for this spot is: “After a young couple falls hopelessly in love, can gum keep their romance from falling apart?”

The pain point: Tell a two-minute emotional story about gum. The solution: Perfectly cast the actors and use a great song. (Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Haley Reinhart)

Goal, action, complication, resolution

Let’s take a closer look and see how the story holds up to my thesis that all good narratives must have a goal, a complication, and interesting action.

There really is no clear and present goal other than to assume the couple wants to be together. The actions are mundane and typical, but each connection between Juan and Sarah is genuine. As the copy states, this is about a guy, a girl, and a stick of gum.

Perhaps it’s the two subtle suspense mechanisms that keep us engaged; “What’s this budding relationship leading up to?” and “Why is Juan always drawing on the gum wrapper?”

The main complication is when Sarah and Juan reach an impasse. Will Skype be enough to keep them together with Sarah’s new out of state job?

The resolution happens when Juan orchestrates a clever marriage proposal with a gallery of his gum wrapper art that captured moments from their relationship. The product placement that we see a little too often ties into the big reveal so much so that all is forgiven.

This is the best spot I’ve reviewed to date.

The Press Play Test

We can all hit a wall with our writing if you believe in writer’s block or not. Next time you do, run through my ‘Goal, Action, Complication, Resolution” 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.’

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 hop up and down and act your way through it with funny voices and props. But is the idea good enough to stand on its own? Most of the time I force myself to 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 must pass my ‘press play test!’

I fire off a link to this video to someone who has no clue of what I’m up to. Even better if this test audience is only tangentially 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 with potential. Your turn! What’s your creative process? How do you test ideas before you get into production? Let me know in the comments.

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