Maintaining tension

I just heard a recording of a great radio interview with the legendary Joe Harris. Among other things, Harris was the co-creator and storyboard artist for “Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tales”. Seeing that animation as a kid is what first got me interested in using animation for teaching.

Among his many accomplishments, Joe Harris also created what is probably the single most famous tag line in American advertising: “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!”

This idea was seminal and brilliant for several reasons. For one thing, the line doesn’t say anything about the product itself — a concept pretty much unheard of at the time. In a radical departure from the norm of its day, the ad wasn’t even trying to sell Trix breakfast cereal to parents. It was selling directly to the kids.

The other ingenious aspect of this ad campaign is that the rabbit keeps trying to eat the Trix, time and time again. But never succeeds. Ever.

Harris said in the interview that people would often come up to him and ask “Why can’t you give the rabbit a break?” And the answer was that this was precisely the point. Once the rabbit gets the Trix, the drama is all gone. There is no longer any reason for you to pay attention.

By continually withholding the breakfast cereal from the cartoon rabbit, a tension is created in the audience. Maybe the rabbit will get the Trix next week. Or tomorrow. Or any minute now.

That dramatic tension creates interest. Suddenly the rabbit’s quest seems a lot more important.

The Trix campaign is narrative literature redux. It is, in a very pure sense, a beautiful illustration of why narrative literature works at all.

One Response to “Maintaining tension”

  1. sally says:

    Gee, sounds like what the 1% is doing to the rest of us…

Leave a Reply