So I’m sitting in my living room. Watching TV. And I admit, I’m not giving it my full attention. I have my laptop out — doing the whole multi-screen thing. But I find myself being drawn into this commercial. I start paying a little more attention. It’s telling the story of a mother. It’s around Mother’s Day, so it feels relevant. It shows her struggles as a mom, except it adds in the twist that she has a deaf child. It really starts to hook me. I have a soft spot anyway for all the things that moms do. And I have never considered having a child that’s deaf on top of that. The scene that really gets me is when the mom is having a fight with her teenage daughter. Through sign language.
In the end, mom sees her daughter graduate. As a parent, I really feel it. You do all this hard stuff. But there are moments when you see them succeed that make it all worthwhile.
I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. And then the Whirlpool logo animates over the last scene.
Wait a minute. What?
What does Whirlpool have to do with this? I mean, I get that moms do laundry (dads, too.) But that seems like a pretty flimsy premise to build this story on. Aren’t people going to feel emotionally manipulated? I’m feeling all indignant.
Caught in the spin cycle?
I was convinced that Whirlpool’s manipulation was pretty blatant. But then again, I wasn’t paying full attention as the commercial started. So I went looking to confirm that my indignation was justified.
As it turns out, the story was pretty well constructed. There were shots of Whirlpool products throughout. But the brand wasn’t taking any credit for helping raise the child. In fact, it was a nice little twist as the child was graduating to say, “Congrats parents. You did it.” And it felt like Whirlpool knew its place in being an advocate for parents.
Was my indignation misplaced? Wait a minute. Not so fast. In our multi-screen, information overload world, can brands really expect me to catch all that stuff that made this a nice story and not misinterpret it as a manipulation of my emotions?
Storytelling built for rinse and repeat.
A day later I saw the commercial again. I saw some things I missed on the first viewing. The same thing happened on the third viewing. Each time I found myself moved by the story.
My indignation was misplaced.
Great storytelling is built to do just this. We should be moved on first viewing. But there should be depth. So when we experience it again (and again) we are rewarded with something new we discover. At Disney, they are masters of this. As a parent, I had to endure the same kid videos over and over and over. You can only take so much Pokemon or Power Rangers. But the Disney videos were the exception. Even on multiple viewings, I would discover little gems in the dialogue or in the back of a scene. Bits of humor that would blow past a kid, but a parent would get. I loved that Disney put that stuff in there for us parents. It was the surprise and delight that is the hallmark of great storytelling.
I appreciate the effort that Whirlpool took to tell a wonderful little story. And to give it the ability to grow richer upon further viewings. We need more of that depth and detail in our over-accelerating, information inundated world. So no more assaulting us with nothing but features, features, features like we all have attention deficit disorder. We should take a cue from the manufacturer of what could be considered a pretty mundane piece of machinery. Whirlpool has shown us that we all can tell meaningful and moving stories when we understand the purpose our brand can amplify in the lives of the people we hope to serve.
Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the forthcoming book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life.