As you all know by now, I look for story elements in everything. And there were some great ones to be found in the best commercials of yesterday’s Super Bowl.

Why is it that the need to communicate an idea quickly forces storytellers — and that’s who creative ad execs are — to narrow their focus to the most primal conflicts and use the most basic emotions to get our attention? Because those primal ads work — instantly and perpetually. All storytellers should take note.

My favorite was a Doritos ad. This is the one which I believe was submitted by a non-professional as part of a contest the company sponsored. It involves a boy driving down the street, spotting a pretty girl, and crashing his car — only to have the girl come to his rescue and reveal she is just as accident-prone. It was a story told in four flashes, each labeled as a different quality of the corn chip — “spicy,” “bold,” “crunchy” — and yet in 30 seconds it told a whole story. Alpha-omega. With an opening image and final image that showed a “transformation” and a topic we all relate to: sex.


My other favorite — for Chevy — was yet another Save the Cat! example, but this was more about Save the Auto Assembly Plant Robot. Here a yellow, and amazingly anthropomorphic, assembly-line automaton dreams it gets fired and sent out into the street to find work. The variations on this sad little guy trying to make his way as a fast-food speaker box and a condo open-house huckster were hilarious and very nearly poignant. Thank God it was all a dream, but when he woke up, he was back in the plant ready to go to work and give his all to make Chevy the best.

In other fun and notable commercials, we had a lost dog on the street who gets turned into a dalmatian on a Budweiser truck, and two guys arguing over a beer by playing “Rock, Paper, Scissors” — only to have one get beaned with an actual rock. And there was a trio of pet store animals who couldn’t quite get the difference between a computer mouse and a real one.

In all of these, we are immediately thrust into a primal conflict over the most basic things: survival, sex, hunger — all things a “caveman” would understand! And so do we.

Each ad is an amazing display of creativity.

But how does it help us screenwriters?

I think there is value in studying all storytelling. And there is great power in giving ourselves limits within which to work — like the confinement of a 30-second spot — or a 15-point structure outline called the BS2.

It also shows that creativity can be lofty and mind-blowing but communication must hit us at the most basic level to work. If we put as much thought into each of the scenes of our scripts that goes into each commercial, we’d be way ahead. And if we always remember that our job as storytellers is to grab and keep a viewer’s attention, we will begin to see that the primal forces at the core of every story we tell is the key to its success.