In this video, at about the 13:40 mark, Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, and Louis CK are discussing how Chris Rock sets up a premise.
Chris Rock sums it up like this: “A lot of comedians have great jokes, and they don’t – like – ‘Why isn’t this working?’ Because the audience does not understand the premise…If I set this premise up right, this joke will always work.”
I see the same thing in advertising. In an agency, before work goes to the client, a team will present a random collection of ads. Some of them may even be really good. But if there’s no premise to any of them, even the really good ones will eventually fall to the wayside. But if a team comes in with a premise, and all of their ideas are tied to that premise, people start nodding their heads. Because we get it.
A premise could be “Saving money with Geico makes people happy.” A series of ads could be ridiculous scenarios of happy people (a camel on hump day, a witch in a broom factory).
A premise could be “Interesting people drink Dos Equis.” A series of ads could be biographical snapshots of the World’s Most Interesting Man.
A premise could be “Bad things happen randomly.” A series of ads could be Mayhem personified.
In other words, ads are like jokes. Concepts are like Chris Rock’s premise.
Don’t jump into your executions. If you have specific ideas for a spot, fine. Write them down. Share them with your partner even. But go into every meeting with your premise first. And make sure everyone in the room understands how each execution you present ties back to it.