Sell the story

I wanted to write this blog about story telling – using a couple of ads as examples.

It seems the concept of using a story as a marketing device is fashionable at the moment, but it’s not a new idea. Let’s face it, the stories traders would have told thousands of years ago about their supplies would probably put a lot of us marketing professionals to shame!

Nevertheless, when it’s done well, it really works – and conversely when it’s done badly, it can really back fire on your brand.

The first example I want to look at is a Nationwide advert, titled ‘On Your Side for Generations’.

The story is beautifully shot, so that it requires very little dialogue. And while it could be accused of being a bit saccharine, it clearly illustrates the tale of a well loved scarf, its loss and return by our heroic Nationwide branch manager. But what’s this got to do with a building society? Without getting into the finer points of the role of finance in our society – the advert has nothing to do with banking. Instead it’s all about trust, responsibility and recognising what matters. It’s about a company that will do The Right Thing.

Let’s look at a second example.

Fiat’s advert for its 500L barely features the car. Instead, it features a white, middle class mum rapping about being a mother, wittily entitled ‘The Motherhood’.

This time, the ad is selling a lifestyle. They’re not making it look very glamorous I hear you say. But the audience is not aspiring to that lifestyle, they’re already in it. The car is the simply the car that goes with that life.

The story is designed to resonate with people – it could feature any car: there are no specific features, we don’t see it in motion and we barely see the interior at all. But it gives credibility to this car being the choice of middle class parents everywhere.

And that’s what the story approach does. It gives your product credibility, your brand authenticity.

But don’t take it from me. This is hotel magnate Steve Wynn, talking about the power of the story in his organisation.

He gives the example of a bellboy driving across the country to pick up some medication for a guest. Not only is the guest is delighted, but the bellboy’s colleagues are impressed, and want to be part of it. He is given an incentive by his boss, and a general “pat on the back” by his team. Everyone wins.

So what about when it goes wrong?

Take a look at this advert from Diet Coke. It tells the story of British Designer J.W. Anderson and his quest to design a great coke bottle. The ad has no resonance. His language, and the way the film is cut is so clichéd as to be a pastiche of how designers talk. It’s already been parodied mercilessly.

There’s no aspiration here, no familiarity, no humour. And since we don’t get to see the design either, there’s no take away message. Compare that to the personalised diet coke bottles which allowed consumers to make their own stories featuring coke, and the J.W. Anderson ad is comparatively a total flop.


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