Seth Stevenson was online on July 26 to chat with readers about this article. Read the transcript.
After much research, Gunn determined that nearly all good ads fall into one of 12 categories—or "master formats," in his words. At last year's Clio Awards, I saw Gunn give a lecture about these formats (using ads mostly from the '70s and '80s as examples), and I was fascinated by his theory. I soon found myself categorizing every ad I saw on TV. It was a revelation: The curtain had been pulled back on all those sly sales tactics at the heart of persuasive advertising.
This slide show presents some recent ads exemplifying each of Gunn's 12 basic categories. With a little practice, you, too, will be ticking off the master formats during commercial breaks.