We all think we know what tension is. It’s something that happens before you meet your partner’s parents for the first time, but that you hope will dissolve pretty quickly. It’s something that you get in you muscles when you’re stressed, and can give you a headache. It’s something that you need just the right amount of when you’re walking the tightrope.
But what’s it got to do with advertising?
Tension is something that all good stories have, or so I’ve been told. And advertising, so often, is storytelling. Drawing your audience in with emotion and characters, hoping that they become invested enough in what happens, that they stick with you.
Tension is also something I’ve heard people talk about within the strategic proposition. But more on that later.
Tension in storytelling
Anticipation. Excitement. High stakes.
Last chance saloon.
The roll of the dice.
Hold your breath and hope.
Tension is what keep us turning the page, and stops us from changing the channel.
It tells us something big is happening. And you’re going to want to see it.
Running through the airport. Will he reach her?
On again, off again. Will they get together?
No body believes him. Will he prove them all wrong?
The lean in before the kiss.
Tension in advertising
The Super Bowl ads are a great example of tension in advertising, least of all because in recent year’s they’ve started to drop teaser ads for the main ads. In order for the teaser to work, and actually tease, their has to be some unresolved tension. Enough anticipation to compel you to watch the real thing in the Super Bowl ad break.
Tension happens when something is pulled by opposite forces, and can manifest in many different ways:The Start Up
– Uncertainty of the unknown
– Pushback against the norm
– Juxtaposition of what is vs. what could be
– A unique or remarkable opinion
So whether it’s in an advert, a brand, a Tweet, a movement, tension is all about the art of the possible.
We know all too well that we don’t want to live in the real world. And that brands don’t want to sell us real life. We want to believe the fairy stories. That miracles do happen. That we’ll get our three wishes. Be kissed by a Prince. Good overcomes evil.
Ideals are what gets noticed
To earn our attention, there needs to be tensionSeth Godin
The tension of how it might turn out.
The tension of possibility.
The tension of change.
Telegrams used to charge by the word. Say what you need to say, there you go.
But stories… stories work because we’re not sure. We’re half there, half not.
This might work.
This might not work.
The tension of maybe.
Tension in strategy
This is one I’ve heard on the grapevine. That’s seeped into my consciousness. And I’ve not made a note of it anywhere. And Google’s let me down.
But it makes sense.
A single minded proposition isn’t just about getting one key message across. It’s about being simple and compelling (that one came from my undergrad PR lecturer Dr Bill Nichols).
1,000 songs in your pocket.
Just do it.
Do you use tension when writing a proposition? How do you create tension in your work?
But what happens in the end?
Tension is all the build up, and whether the high stakes gamble will pay off. One thing that’s interested me recently is that in a world of skippable ads and short attention spans, the resolution gets put first, followed by the tension. This makes for less effective anticipation build, but it does stop people’s eyes glazing at 2s and clicking off to somewhere else.
And with all this talk of tension, I’m off to watch the season 4 finale of Grey’s Anatomy. Now if you’re interesting in building tension. Shonda Rhimes is an absolute master.
Be brave. Feel stupid.