When all else fails, dance!

Author: Scott Foreman


There’s a central precept that the advertising industry has always held dear: the value of a big idea. The orthodoxy is that an idea must be different, single-minded, and founded on a truth about the product that is relevant to the potential customer. Anything less than that, and your ad is never going to work as powerfully as it should. 

When finding a big idea proved too difficult, the fallback position used to be a jingle. If you can’t come up with anything else, then wrap it all up in a catchy tune and you might just end up with a commercial that sticks in people’s heads and makes them remember to buy what you are selling. 

Now that bar appears to have slipped further. It seems some advertisers can’t even be bothered with translating their message into a lyric and putting it to music. Instead, they’re just getting people to dance in their ads. At least jingles still involved a degree of wit, but these advertisers want us to believe that the natural reaction to saving some money, or getting a new cellphone plan, or hiring someone to haul away your junk is to break out into an expressive jig. 

This gets the advertising purists among us in a complete lather. Where’s the insight? Where’s the reason why? Isn’t that just an execution pretending to be an idea? Who’s going to want to buy that? Do they think we’re utterly stupid? What on earth were the creatives thinking? That agency should be embarrassed with themselves. 

But is it really that moronic? The potency of advertising has never rested primarily in its ability just to impart information. It is about persuading people and letting them identify with you. Advertising is effective when it makes someone believe that people like them have that brand in their lives.  

The cast of a TV commercial isn’t there to debate the viewers or argue them into submission with cleverly articulated versions of the value proposition. They are there to tell a story that allows the audience to want to connect with the brand. 

Dance is one of the most ancient art forms. It is elemental to how people express themselves and how they feel. The dancer reveals their honest self through their movement. Dance has no chicanery or deception. What you see is what you get. 

It presents people as their vulnerable selves. It’s not just the rhythmic beat that we find so mesmerizing, it’s the voluntary submission of the individual to being examined for who they are. And that demonstration of vulnerability makes them more likeable. 

The rituals that bring us together abound with dance. It’s central to religion, courtship, and community, and shows up at weddings, street parties, and the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. It can be mimicked, so everyone can participate. Wherever people congregate, dancing usually breaks out. Some may be better than others, but it is an activity that anyone who can move their body can do. It creates a shared experience.  

This drives at the heart of what advertising is trying to achieve. It’s inviting people to join in and be a part of what is going on. Dance is a universal language which doesn’t need subtitles or translation. It transcends different groups with different views of the world and brings them together. 

Perhaps those “dance advertisers” aren’t just resorting to some silly lowest common denominator because they can’t think of anything worthwhile to say about their brands. Perhaps it’s deliberate. Perhaps the most important thing for them is to connect with their audiences and make them feel comfortable about their brands. 

Being approachable can be more valuable than just being impressive. Having your protagonists dance your brand story may not end up winning you any awards from the purists, but for the pragmatists, it might just give you a piece of advertising that works in market.