The Power Of Surprise

Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, advertising can tend be a little light on surprises. The wonderfully satisfying ‘I didn’t see that coming’ moment is replaced with ‘spotted you a mile away, through fog, at night…and it’s raining’.

Yet the idea of ‘surprise’ is such a fundamental part of what makes great campaigns great - well, makes most things great. Who doesn’t love a nice surprise? Hell, we have parties based around the word.

You’ve only to look at talk shows and talent shows to see the value of surprises.

Let’s face it, The Ellen Show, this juggernaut of hope and positivity mixed with humour, is a masterclass in utilising surprises.

It’s safe to assume much of the global fondness towards this show comes down to many of the surprises carefully created and executed during each episode. We like seeing people surprised. It makes us happy to see other people happy and hugging each other like idiots. Surprising people is the show's currency.

Ellen is the maestro of the rolling surprise. Always composed. Timing, impeccable. ’You’ll win this’ (audience goes nuts). ‘Oh, and on top of that, you’ll get this’ (audience still nuts). ‘Oh, before I forget, I’ve got this in my jacket pocket for you, too’ (audience convulsing). ‘Oh, and here’s Slash playing his guitar’ (audience now passing out).

It’s a manufactured frenzy. A slow burn of rewarding, orchestrated for maximum impact. People love it because nice surprises are bliss. 

James Corden utilises it each time he opens the door of his Range Rover for a Car Karaoke. Works so well, viewers now expect to see an even more unexpected celebrity to hop in. 

The Voice. X-Factor. (Insert Country)’s Got Talent. Likewise, these shows live and die off that very first moment of surprise (not 5 episodes in when contestants have performed numerous times and we don’t care anymore). The initial note sung, the unexpected detour in the very first dance, these are the jaw drops, the hands over eyes, and sideway glances that get shared all over the web. 

You surprise, you create a memory. Because you’ve ignited a feeling.

It’s that simple. It’s that powerful.

Back to the world of advertising, don’t think that surprises are simply the domain of TV commercials, either. Surprises can live anywhere, from a witty retort to a Tweet, to the product itself - the magic is in the unforeseen. Which is hard to create. But worth the pain.

Do it well enough, surprise enough people, and chances are it could end up being showcased on Ellen.