Updated: Jul 1, 2020
Going for the heart more than the head, a moving pitch scores big
There are the would-be funny Super Bowl commercials whose punchlines land with a splat, the clever spots that merely confuse, and the moving ads that would have us believe America’s heroes went to war so that we could drink crisper light beer. And then, this year, there’s the Google “Loretta” commercial, which aspires to be funny, clever, and moving, and, defying the odds, successfully pulls off all three.
The premise is simple. A man turns to Google for help preserving details about his wife, Loretta. He asks Google to remember that Loretta hated his mustache, loved scallops, and had beautiful handwriting; to play their favorite movie, Casablanca, and to show photos of their trip to Alaska.
The commercial’s power comes from omission as much as inclusion. It doesn’t mention the product being promoted, Assistant, which would sully the sentimental tone. Instead, it is enough for us to see the man speaking and hearing Google’s replies. The ad only hints that he may be having memory problems. And when Google shares Loretta’s actual words, “don’t miss me too much, and get out of the dang house,” viewers don’t need to be told the obvious. The man’s wife has died and left him behind, and he is struggling.
This last bit melted my defenses against Super Bowl shilling and made me cry. I watched “Loretta” on YouTube ahead of the game (as have 8 million other people and counting), and the overwhelmingly positive comments posted below the video show that my reaction was common: The phrases “made me cry” and “brought me to tears” come up repeatedly. As of course they would. We all know the pain of losing someone we love.
Four years ago, my father was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Devastated, knowing that our family would soon lose him, I sat down with my dad to record his life story. After many sessions, I wound up with more than a dozen hours worth of his remembrances.
Around the same time, conversational platforms like Assistant and Alexa were stepping to the technological fore, and most people, then as now, were thinking how they could fulfill practical needs like playing songs and answering questions.
I wondered if the technology could address an emotional need as well. I spent nearly a year creating what I called the Dabot, an interactive, conversational avatar that shared my father’s stories, songs, sayings, and jokes and tried to convey a sense of his warm and witty personality. The Dadbot is a highly imperfect virtual being. But he gives me a vivid and comforting tool for remembering a man I dearly loved.
I created the Dadbot solely for myself and my family. But then people from around the world began to contact me, asking for life story-sharing Dadbots, Mombots, Spousebots, and Selfbots of their own. I cofounded HereAfter to do just that.
So back to “Loretta.” I am wary about Google, whose core business is to collect our data and sells ad against it, getting into the business of saving personal memories. (Am I also personally concerned about one of the world’s most successful companies starting down the same road as my startup? For sure.) But when it comes to illustrating a true problem and an innovative solution, “Loretta” is beautiful and perfect. We all lose the people we love, and we will all benefit from better ways to remember them.
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