In defence of dialogue

‘Mr. Cuddles’

Dialogue-driven ads are an endangered species in South Africa. Out of 10 boards Egg Films receives, it’s rare for more than two to be dialogue-driven. Egg loves voiceovers, vignettes and visual storytelling as much as any agency art director but also believes that memorable dialogue still stands out, perhaps now more than ever as there’s so little of it. This is backed by the popularity of their recent campaigns for Careers24 and Wimpy. ‘Mr Cuddles,’ Dani Hynes’ Wimpy ad for FCB, is a great example of how dialogue can become a meme: since the ad aired, people on social media have been comparing news events like Zuma’s ‘apology,’ or Radovan Krejcir’s defense, to the dad who tries to blame Mr Cuddles, and appropriating ‘this guy’ (Wimpy voice) as a shorthand for their own disbelief. Dani weighs in on her own love of dialogue.

Someone else: “When did you realise you wanted to be a film director?”

Me: “The day I fell in love with radio.”

Seems an incongruent argument right? How does the ‘least visual’ medium set you on a path to picture making? Those of you who know, know exactly how. To those who find this whole premise weird, I’ll begin at the beginning.

I am a huge fan of conversation, language in general to be fair, but conversations specifically. Messy, awkward, funny, easy, tough, someone else’s – I love them all. I adore nuance and turns of phrase. It is how people reveal themselves to you over time, story by story, fact by fact, and if you’re lucky enough to meet the right people, wine too.

Our ability to communicate changed everything for us as a species. Well, that and opposable thumbs obviously. Out-loud cognitive thinking and subtext is where the really good stuff happens. Laughter, flirting, heartbreak, anger, warmth, tenderness – it’s all there beneath the surface in every conversation you have, overhear, read about, retell. It is how we understand that we are not alone in this crazy endeavour called life.

Radio taught me that when you don’t have visuals at the ready, you better choose your words and how you say them wisely. There is nowhere to hide there. So say what you mean and mean what you say.

The power of dialogue is wielded beautifully over the airwaves. So why then do we think it doesn’t work on film?

Since movies started talking on a Thursday in 1927 (I like that it was a Thursday; I can’t tell you why), we have heard some incredible things. From the “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” advice in Jaws to the “You make me want to be a better man” compliment in As Good As It Gets. We have heard them all. We have even stolen some of them when our own words failed us. Well, I have. Why? Because on 6 October 1927, we realised we don’t just see the world around us, we populate it with our thoughts and personalities, our experiences and our points of view and none of that matters if we can’t share it with each other.

As marketers, we often believe that words and their intentions are hardy enough for us to bend them to our will. I have been in many a meeting where people even make them up. Unless you are Bruce Banner guys, you can’t brandish about ‘mutated buzzwords’ like ‘flag-poling’ as if they too are mightier than the sword. They aren’t. Because they aren’t real, you know they aren’t. In a world where people have been lied to too often, what they’re really after are honest conversations.

We talk all the time. We talk about everything. So you would be forgiven for thinking that you could put any words in anyone’s mouth. Actors and actresses have to be able to deliver the lines we give them because it is their job. Right? Wrong. They deliver the lines as the characters we give them. The more fully formed and authentic those are, the better the delivery.

Think of it like this: you are at a party and a very attractive prospect eyes you up. That is nice. Then they walk over and tell you straight away what they do, how good they are at it, how much value they give people and that if you go home with them right now, you will get a free set of steak knives or something else you don’t really need. Less nice, more “Oh, would you look at that: my imaginary Uber is here!”

The only way I have ever got to know someone was by starting a conversation and talking to them. I have had less luck with the people I talk at.

Dialogue is a powerful way to tell a brand story, but we are doing it less and less. I just wonder why? In the (mumbles behind hand in embarrassed fashion) years I have been writing and directing, no one has ever quoted back to me an end line from one of my ads, but I got a special kick out of seeing the crazy cool selection of #thisguy memes. It taught me one very important thing: audiences are like toddlers in traffic; they listen more closely than we think.

By Dani Hynes, Egg Films director


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here