July 29, 2019
Unless you’re a film buff, you may not have heard of Lev Kuleshov. His experiment shaped the way we communicate in film.
Kuleshov used one shot of a man wearing a neutral expression in three different videos. Pairing him with a bowl of soup, a girl in a coffin, and a woman on a couch, Kuleshov asked audiences what he was feeling, and people interpreted his look – the exact same neutral look – as either hungry, sad, or lustful.
The Kuleshov Effect proves that context is key – that we derive more meaning from a series of shots than from a single one.
So what does this have to do with advertising? In a nutshell, everything. Of course, this is the foundation of storytelling in video ads, but it also gives us a key insight into context in general.
Here are three iconic ads in which the Kuleshov Effect applies to more than just shots in a video – where the context of an entire ad creates its meaning.
1. Real-time context: Oreo’s ‘Dunk in the Dark’
It’s quite a meaningless post, out of context. Placed within the timeframe of the Superbowl blackout however, this ad not only gave Oreo followers a laugh, it was the best performing ad that the brand had posted to date and changed the game for social media advertising.
2. Geographical context: SSGA’s ‘Fearless Girl’
On its own, it’s a statue of a little girl that’s open to interpretation – if you placed it in an empty square, she could easily pass for dreamy, or even angry. But no one thought that. This girl is fearless because she’s facing the Wall-Street bull. The context is what made her a symbol of defiance to gender inequality.
3. Political context: New York Times’ ‘The Truth is Hard’
It’s a powerful spot, simple and well executed – but also impeccably timed. Placed in the era of Trump’s reckless accusations of “fake news”, this campaign turned his notorious rhetoric to the brand’s advantage. It begs the question, without the context of Trump, would it have won a Cannes Lion?
Context deepens the impact of an ad – so whether we’re talking about media buys or real-time reactions, it’s our duty to make sure we’re enriching our content with brilliant context.