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Vaynermedia's Scary Parody

What made this spot so good? Georgia Pacific STAINMASTER -

"The Stain" - Vaynermedia - 1:20 This is the tenth in a series of articles where I deconstruct examples of excellent storytelling in contemporary advertising.

The creative team at Vaynermedia indulged themselves in a challenge to have fun promoting a dangerously boring product: carpet cleaner.

This horror story spoof starts with the trope of a young family moving into their new home - that happens to be a creepy old house in the woods with a similarly creepy old man as the neighbor.

Pain point: Georgia Pacific wanted to stand out in the saturated market of carpet cleaner products.

Solution: Create a horror flick parody where the evil force is a carpet stain.

There’s no evidence that the kid is motherless, but since she’s nowhere to be seen, the cinematography somehow tells us she died a horrible death.

Some interesting data about the results of this campaign that was designed exclusively for social media lies in Vayner’s strategy. They produced two other spots in completely different styles and ran all three spots to a small audience to see which story got the best engagement.

Then when a clear front-runner surfaced, (The Stain) we can assume they doubled down on the ad spend behind the ‘winning’ spot because they rolled out “The Stain” to a national audience, which is where I saw it.

Goal, action, complication, resolution

There’s a minor goal at the very beginning when the dad wants to assuage his son's reluctance to their new home. “See, it’s nice,” says dad. In screenwriting lingo, this is called a ‘false goal’ and intentionally has no interesting action to support it.

When we hear the boy scream for help, the complication arises! This triggers the true goal: how will dad deal with this evil stain that has pinned his son in the corner of the room? Oh, the inhumanity!

There’s a great homage to Hitchcock scene here where we see a dizzying down shot of the character as he runs (action) up several flights of stairs to the rescue.

Staying with typical modern day horror structure, there’s no happy ending (non - resolution). Dumb dad uses dish soap to deal with the carpet stain. This cleverly tees up the perfect timing for some cheesy product placement: “Don’t let this happen to you.”

Well done Vayner! And for those ROI doubters, it’s nice to have data to back up this bold move in brand storytelling.


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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