A story is an experience, and sharing experiences is much more powerful than sharing facts or opinions. If you tell someone: “this product is great, you should buy it,” they might take your word for it, or they’ll probably forget about it seconds later. But if you share with them your experience with the product, telling them a funny or exciting story, suddenly they’re experiencing what you experienced, and they’re much more likely to remember it.
Listening to a story activates your whole brain, so when you tell a story, you’re grabbing hold of your listener’s entire brain, hopefully not literally, making a much more impactful impression. In fact, by simply telling a story, you can plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners’ brains.
With that much rubbing-your-hands-together-going-mwuah-ha-ha power, it’s no wonder the best advertisers, and some deep dark corners of the CIA, utilize storytelling.
But remember, storytelling is more than a science, it’s an art, and there’s a right and a wrong way to make it most effective.
1) Keep it simple
Since it’s pretty much a guarantee that the person watching your ad has been hit by the eight second attention span epidemic, simple is always better. Consumers need to understand a product in order to want to buy that product, so a confused consumer certainly won’t be breaking down the door like its Black Friday.
Audience understanding and engagement is crucial, which is much more likely when advertisers stick to the fundamental basics of storytelling. The last thing you want is for your audience to view an ad, say, “huh?” and forget what the ad was even for because they’re too busy scratching their proverbial heads. While it may take endless hours of brainstorming and hard work, the best way to get your brand message across is usually coming up with the most simple way to communicate it. Just don’t forget, while simplicity is key, you have to make it interesting too.
2) Don’t be basic
In other words, be the Lady Gaga of advertising. Be like that time she was carried onto the Grammy’s red carpet in a life size egg by four half-naked men and women. She did something new and different and everyone was talking about it. Like Gaga, you have the freedom to do something totally different that sets you apart from your competitors. You can tell a story that’s never been told before, and by making it unique, you’ll stand out from all the other brands doing the same old thing.
Nobody was going, “Wait who went to the Grammy’s red carpet in an egg?” Everyone knew it was Gaga. So come from a different angle with your ad, tackle a new topic and create something original your consumer will remember.
3) Make them cry (in a good way)
Writing a brand’s story may be the only appropriate time to be happy you made your customer cry. By getting them blubbering, you also get them buying into your brand. That being said, tears are just one form of flattery for a good ad. There’s also laughs, smiles, sighs, smirks, gasps, (you get the point), which are just as, if not more effective. Basically, you just have to make them feel something. These emotional reactions will help you win over your consumer and help them to feel personally connected to your brand.
For example, Google Chrome’s Dear Sophie ad set the bar for how to transform a normally non-emotional product into a feel good experience. Through telling the story of the special bond between a father and a daughter, the functions of Google Chrome were suddenly able to evoke puddles of tears the consumer needed to repeatedly wipe off their laptop. If you can make people cry tears of joy over a web browser, you know your advertisement is effective.
In a world where half the population thinks marketing is a “bunch of B.S.”, it’s probably in your best interest to make your consumer forget they’re watching an advertisement. Let’s be honest, the best kind of advertising doesn’t feel like advertising. Develop a creative story for your consumer to get so lost in and entertained by that they start seeking your ads, instead of trying to avoid them like armpits on a crowded city train.
Remember Extra Gum’s ad, The Story of Sarah & Juan? Over 19 million people were so moved by the young couple’s love story that they waited through YouTube ads only to watch these Extra ads on YouTube. So every time you make an ad, make sure it’s worth viewing, and more importantly, make sure it leaves the audience wanting more.
Now that you’ve managed to tell an emotional, unique, subtly satisfying story, leave room for the next chapter. Who doesn’t love a good sequel? Just think of the AllState Mayhem commercials with the ever-bandaged and bruised Mayhem character. Though he tells a new story in every ad, the theme remains the same, consistently reinforcing the message that having good car insurance protects you from teenage girls texting on their bedazzled flip phones, big ol’ bags of fast food thrown from truck drivers’ windows, and other extremely specific “Mayhem” you may face on the road. By continuing a story like this, your consumer will become invested, creating an attachment with your brand.
It’s kind of like your ad is a mini series, except it’s not on HBO, and the purpose of it is to drive sales. In the wise words of Orson Welles, “if you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story”. The happy ending in the advertising world would be an influx of sales, so never stop writing your brand’s story and your clients will sell happily ever after.
The bottom line is to tell a great story. Stories are how people connect to people and form bonds, and when a brand tells a story the same thing happens. Never just tell consumers how great your product is with facts and figures they won’t remember. You have to make an impression and connect with them by sharing an experience and making them believe it through the power of storytelling. Good luck!