Sunday, March 14, 2010

Acts of Genius: The Hook

The other morning, I was listening to the radio as I drove into work. It went to commercial, and I zoned out the noise of the ads. But then, I heard something. Not just a commercial, but a genius idea. The kind of idea that makes you say out loud, "Well done." (At least, I did.)

What commercial did I hear?

It was for a new flavor of Doritos, called Doritos Burn. The ad was a phone call from a guy to an emergency operator because he'd just eaten Doritos Burn and his mouth was on fire and he couldn't stop it. The operator instructed him to go get a bottle of Pepsi Max Cease Fire. Apparently Pepsi Cease Fire is specifically formulated to counter-act the burning spiciness of Doritos Burn.

Like I said, GENIUS. Now, I'm all for indie this and local that and support your nearest mom-and-pop store, but when a huge corporation comes up with a genius idea, well, I have to applaud. I'm still a sucker for Doritos, and sometimes on a weekend or when I try to forget that I'm supposed to eating healthy, I'm grab a bag of Doritos and a soda. But the flavors change. But imagine if you were a person who did that on a regular basis, and bought the Doritos Burn flavor. Suddenly you'd ALWAYS be buying a soda with it and it would ALWAYS be Pepsi Max Cease Fire, because why would you buy anything else?

Something else I find genius is Lady GaGa. Note I didn't say "someone else," because I don't really see Lady Gaga as a person. Not because she dresses weird and often reminds me of an alien, but rather because I think she's branded herself in such a brilliant way. If you search on Youtube for Stetanfi Germanotta, you can find an old talent night video of her (in college, I believe) performing two self-composed songs for piano that are reminiscent of Tori Amos/the soft side of Regina Spektor. (That is, of course, assuming that that video is actually of her, which so far I haven't heard rumours otherwise.) Now, Regina Spektor and Tori Amos are doing quite well for themselves as chicks-with-pianos, but I'm sure there are thousands of equally talented young women trying to break into the music business who never will. Or they will, but certainly will not reach the level of fame that Tori Amos or Regina Spektor have. Because the truth is, chicks-with-pianos is a niche music market (that I totally love) whereas candy-catchy pop songs infiltrate the minds of even those with the finest musical taste.

This is why I think Lady Gaga is a genius. I don't think she actually buys into this whole pop-music scene--I think it's simply a genius marketing ploy. She knew the best way to get into the business and she did it. Did she "sell out"? Maybe. But I'm sure if it's really selling out if she's taken this on as a type of theatre or farce and simply milking it for all that it's worth. It's like the crazy outfits--does she love wearing them? I'm sure she does. But does she do it seriously, or because she knows it's going to make everyone's head explode? Probably for the attention. Even the name, Lady Gaga, comes from the Queen song, "Radio Gaga", which is about how all the pop music on the radio is silly & idiotic, like baby talk. Secretly subversive pop star name? I think it might be! Plus, let's all just admit it...her songs are awesome for cranking up when you're in the car.

So what do Lady Gaga and Doritos Burn and Pepsi Cease Fire have to do with each other? Or for writing, for that matter?

They're all ideas that have an awesome hook. And, as we all know, the hook can often be the key to having a good story and having a great story. The hook doesn't always mean it's a good book, or top-notch writing. But a lot of times a solid hook can cause you, the reader, to look past all that (or look past Lady Gaga's crazy lyrics or the ridiculousness of having to buy a specific soda to eat a specific brand of chips) and just enjoy the ride.

What other good hooks are out there that you know?


  1. Love this entertaining post! Yes, Lady Gaga is a marketing genius.

  2. I think Madonna was the forerunner in this art. Only a mediocre singer (in comparison to contemporaries like Pat Benatar's mezzo soprano vocal range) Madonna definitely has a genius for flash over substance. We, as writers, must remember that the hook must have something dangling from its end.

  3. Ahh, Lady GaGa. I resisted for the first two singles she had on the radio, but eventually found myself singing them while at work. Genius, indeed...

    You're right, though. We could all take a cue from this. Hooks are vital!

    Awesome post!

  4. Like Meika, I totally resisted Lady Gaga. It was futile. About as futile as trying to resist Doritos. The power of le hook.

  5. Argh! I want some doritos and pepsi now! LOL Great post!

  6. Like Cynthia, I thought of Madonna. She is so good at reinventing herself. And while I'm not a Madonna fan, the girl's got hook.

    Lady Gaga cracks me up. And her songs are so dang catchy...

    Fun post!

  7. Terry--she is! I secretly (although I suppose not-so-secretly anymore) find the pop music world fascinating.

    Cynthia--Great point! Madonna has certainly pioneered the art of re-inventing yourself.

    Meika--I tried to resist too. Something about knowing she's being over-the-top on purposely makes me like her even better.

    Donna--I know! The hook! It's no surprise Dan Brown is a millionaire...

    Charlie--the first thought I had when I heard the commercial was about running to 7-11 just to see if it worked!

    Dawn--I like early Madonna, which I feel like it was appropriate for her to be re-inventing herself. At 50, though, one would think she would settle into a single identity...

  8. Great post! That Doritos ad makes me laugh.

    A good hook can cover a multitude of sins, but it's even better when a good hook is combined with a good book.


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