The email message arrived on a busy day. Working to deadline on a troublesome story, I barely had time to catch my breath let alone be simultaneously entertained and inspired, though in the end that’s exactly what would happen. “Absolutely the best!” the message said. “Watch all of them.” Below the message I found this link to a YouTube video titled Top 10 Budweiser Superbowl Commercials.
I am usually wary of such things, sometimes because I distrust the sender and wonder what garbage might infiltrate my computer, but also because I know from personal experience what a huge temptation YouTube can be. Last year, while on a trip to Italy, my wife and I faced a few long evenings in hotel rooms where CNN was the only English language channel we could access on TV. One night, for entertainment, we purged YouTube on my laptop and for blissful, idle hours we binged on a steady stream of video clips from around the world. We stayed up far later than we should and paid the price the next day, trudging past landmarks like the Coliseum with scarcely enough energy to snap a few photos.
The Budweiser message came from my sister-in-law, a trustworthy source. Sold on “Absolutely the best!” I clicked on the link. I promised myself I’d only watch a minute or two. As it turned out, I watched all eight minutes, entranced by a string of award-winning Super Bowl commercials, each one featuring Budweiser’s iconic Clydesdale horses. Gone and forgotten- at least for the moment – were the sticky problems I was having with my own story.
The commercials were hugely entertaining. Not only that, each was a story masterpiece, a nugget or everything we who write stories – even very short ones like those in picture books – strive to achieve. The ingredients were all there – character, plot, conflict, resolution – the elixir of well-told tales, all in 60 seconds and sometimes even less.
But there was something else, too. Another quality. I recalled something I’d read recently in Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul (Writer’s Digest Books, 2009). For a story to resonate with readers (or in the Budweiser case – viewers), it must have depth. “Enduring picture books,” Paul says, “must be about something bigger than a mere incident. The story problem must explore some larger theme or issue. It must have a kernel of truth about life and our world.”
Each of the Budweiser stories incorporated a ‘kernel of truth’, a deeper message that went beyond the string of incidents making up the story itself. The value of friendship. The importance of cooperation. The payoff that comes with persistence and hard work. Those deeper messages were there, echoing life and lingering after the commercials were over.
For me, watching the Budweiser commercials was, as the saying goes ‘time well wasted’. This Bud might be for you as well, so click on the image below to link up to YouTube if you wish to double up on entertainment and inspiration yourself.