And the brand lived happily ever after – why the brave will tell consumers a story
Strategy and Communications Planning Director
Storytelling is the most compelling way of being heard and remembered amongst a cacophony of brand messages. Brands that embrace storytelling find a way into people’s hearts.
The fact is, we never bought our TV sets for TV commercials. Yet when the little pug from the Budweiser commercial trots in front of five gorgeous Clydesdale horses, after its epic story of being lost and found, we all get a little glow of happiness. Our eyes light up, we smile, and – on our tablets and phones – we re-watch and we share it with our friends. This is not so very different from a small child who delights in listening to his mother re-tell their favorite stories, to which he adds his own. Even as adults, we love stories. Storytelling fulfils a basic human need, and it needs to return to our marketing charts.
When the communication app LINE launched its 2014 mini-sequel to the 2002 smash hit film “Ada Apa Dengan Cinta?” (What’s With Love?) it took Indonesian audiences by storm. This was an emotion-charged story of a couple who had separated in the movie, getting back together. The sequel brought happy memories flooding back to the adults who had loved the film in their youth. The sequel became a sensation on social networks, chat apps and in general conversation. This was a piece of branded content, but the brand’s presence was subtly handled – discreetly woven into a beautiful story that resonated with people and their memories.
It is true, though, that the pressures of the boardroom put pressure on marketers to tread cautiously, and the freedom to tell a creative story can be constrained. But there is strong evidence that storytelling has a real impact on consumers. Neuroscience shows that when people are told a story, six regions of their brain are activated; this compares to just two regions when people are told a series of facts.
Even in categories where it might seem the facts really are the story, true storytelling can have a big impact. The analgesic Counterpain, for instance, moved away from the usual sore bodies and glowing pain spots to tell a real story of a man carrying his grandson on his shoulders and putting up with the pain, however much it hurt.
The media landscape is not getting any simpler, and the ability of ads to cut through is in decline. So, where do we go from here?
Brands need stories to bring back the romance; we should plot a ‘share of heart’ chart next to our graphs on share of voice. Great storytelling is not a sweetener. It is the main course. When budgets are tight, this takes bravery, but being brave is the only option.
Most people in marketing joined this industry to explore the unexplored, to write poetic lines and put their imagination on billboards. That is risky, but where has that appetite for adventure gone? We must remind ourselves of the great work that inspired us to join this industry, and attempt to make some of our own. This year, Thai mobile phone network TrueMove made a wonderful film on ‘The true meaning of giving’. Virgin America created a 5 hour 45 minute film to literally demonstrate how poor flying with another airline can be. That’s brave.
The best time to tell a story is now. Sharing is an ancient human behavior, but now it’s so convenient. Brands can tell a big story in different ways that can be shared across platforms. We were never better equipped than now to engage people with content, from TV to tweets.
Archetypes are the beginning of everything. People are emotional beings and brands are, at their most basic level, just badges that products carry. But Nike goes on to create a community of ardent lovers. People swear by Harley Davidson. L’Oréal is a statement that women make to define womanhood. These brands are not just badges; they have personalities and tell a story. Strong brands are explorers, magicians, lovers, or the guy next door. The genius lies in knowing who they are and the stories they want to tell. This is probably the easiest way for a brand to generate a premium without having to justify it with facts. People who only buy Nike probably don’t do it because they believe Nike makes the best shoes in the world, but because it pushes them to do their best.
Stories are effervescent. So, next time you sell a smartphone, don’t sell features, tell a story and sell the glint in the consumer’s eye.
Maxus is a global network of local media agencies helping brands with communications strategy, integrated media planning and buying, data analytics, digital marketing, social media strategy, search, content development and partnerships, and technology innovations.