Why these Super Bowl commercials made me cry (and what fiction writers can learn from it)
As I've said in past posts...I am not a sports fan. So this past weekend's Super Bowl event did nothing for me, besides give me an excuse to get out of the house and hang with some friends for a few hours.
Of course as I was (occassionally) watching, I couldn't help but notice a couple of the commercials. The dog ones, to be more specific. There were two that I noticed, one a commercial for Farmer's Dog food, and the other an Amazon commercial.
The first (which you can watch here) tells the story of a girl getting a puppy and growing up. The spot features highlights from their time together--walking in the rain, playing outside, then the girl going off to college, moving in with a partner, and having her own child...the aging dog by her side the whole time. At the end, the tagline reads "Nothing matters more..than more years together."
Okay, so why did this (I kid you not) make me cry (then cry again as I rewatched it)? Well it might be because I have an aging dog (Penny) whom I love as much as I love my kids. That's part of it, sure. But I think it works because it taps into such raw, universal emotions and the journey that we all go through: Life.
Whether you're a dog person or not, a cat person, single or married, a parent or not...there is something in this commercial that you have experienced. We all move from the simple pleasures of childhood, and grow up to do other adult things. It's the circle of life, coming of age themes that tug our heartstrings...especially with a loved one at our side.
The second commercial for Amazon (which you can watch here) does something similar, though it taps into slightly different universal experiences. Set to the tune of "Love Goes on" from Disney's Robin Hood (cue instant tears), it's told from the perspective of a dog, Sawyer, who is happy and thriving as a dog during the Covid lockdown.
He's getting all the love and attention in the world from his family. But then, when the world opens up again, Sawyer is sad. He's left behind and begins to destroy the house. We see his owners getting frustrated, and then decide to do something about it. We see them purchasing a dog crate on Amazon, and believe that okay, poor Sawyer is going to get crated while they're gone. That is, until they bring the crate home and out comes a new dog, and hopefully a best friend, for Sawyer.
Now, like the first commercial, maybe this hit me hard because not only do I have an aging dog, but I also just welcomed a puppy (Bruno) as a playmate for Penny as she gets older. (I wish that having two dogs was idyllic and simple as the Amazon commercial makes it look, but that's another story.)
Anyway, this commercial worked because, again, it tapped into the universal experience of being a human (even though it was the POV of a dog!): the experience of lockdown, then the changes when things started opening up again, and, of course, the deep emotions of loneliness, and love, and friendship, all of which most humans have felt in their lifetime. They accomplished this all in one minute thirty seconds. The power of story, you guys...it's REAL.
As fiction writers, our takeaway is this: If you are writing a book, it MUST dig deep into the human experience. So ask yourself: What are you writing about? What are you trying to say about the world? Can you make it a tagline like Farmer's Dog did? ("What matters most is more years together.") Give it a try. And when you approach the page, keep that tagline in your mind. Maybe put it on a sticky note on your computer, or the bulletin board behind your desk. And make sure you're working that emotion into every bit of your story.