Borrowing from Psycho, USPS Gets the Evil Clown Commercial Right

Alfred Hitchcock knew this:  You don't need a lot of special effects to get your audience's attention, and sometimes, it's the simplest thing that works. 

In leaning on these two conventions, the US Postal Service has gotten its take on the evil clown commercial just right.  They've stuck to an often forgotten advertising formula:

You've got yourself a problem?  We have the solution.  Your solution.  And we'll give it to you in a language you can easily understand.  But just in case you're not paying attention, we're going to use a jarring but familiar attention-grabber right in the middle of our story so we can suck you back in to the message.

It doesn't get much clearer than that.

This 2009 ad features a huddling family stranded on their front porch, too afraid to enter their own home. It's because they've received a package containing a small but frightening clown with the eerie ability to move through the house on its own power.  To make matters worse, they've ordered the thing through the internet, essentially bringing the problem on themselves.

Enter the USPS to the rescue.  As Mom, Dad and kids cower outside their own front door, a friendly postal worker confidently approaches and inquires as to what the issue might be.  The next phase of the commercial begins a transition ushered in with a 3-frame but effective static edit straight out of Hitchcock's Psycho, complete with music. It's convincing, but you can almost hear the hero's anthem cue in the background as the USPS worker shrugs off the clown to deliver a very succinct script containing all the information the family needs to easily rid themselves of the invader.

"Perfect" says Dad on hearing the solution.

But it's the very next shot that seals the deal, placing us, and the postman, firmly on the side of the frightened family.  For the first time in the commercial, the point of view is shown from deeper inside the house, pulling back a bit to neatly frame both family and the USPS.  And conveniently, the shot includes our postal worker holding a box of perfect size to contain and rid the home of the horrible little clown.

Contrast this with the Walmart Evil Clown  commercial, where the harlequin is shot from a low angle as he creeps into the room.  My interpretation of this take?  The retailer unintentionally presents itself as a blue-haired giant that lumbers into rooms (communities) to crush unicorns (mom and pop stores) under its feet while roaring at children (protesters).  And in this particular scenario, what's interesting is that its only the moms (target market) that remains unfazed.


photo credit:  The Fresh Site

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