Of ads and storytelling

By Ross Brown | 06 Mar 2017

A Tale of Storytelling

We've managed to skip some ads with tactical tea breaks in the past, but our ability to trim the fat has developed. The rise of ad blocking in the past few years has allowed us to only view what we want - and with services such as Netflix, we pay not to see ads at all. Even when exposed to less advertising, it's still advertising we don't want. However, in today's digital age, others have blossomed. The John Lewis Christmas adverts are anticipated with glee, shared enthusiastically, and critiqued like food, fine wine and works of art. People want to consume the advert and they want to copy it, creating memes and spoofs left, right and centre.

Focusing on performance only gets you part of the way to your customer. Telling a vivid, flowing story expands the reach of your message and bridges the gap between what's on offer and the customer. They're interlinked, not separate. You can't create a story then optimise for performance; you need to optimise the story. That is, roll out a form of data-informed storytelling: engaging the customer with the story at the top of the funnel and repeating it throughout the funnel, while using integrated multichannel campaigns. It's a winning formula, but why?

What makes winning ads? They tell a story

People understand stories and, most importantly, they remember good stories. Stories, tales and anecdotes work thanks to metaphors, and good metaphors allow us to make sense of complicated situations or ideas, drawing from personal experience to bring them to life. We grew up listening to stories and, as such, respond well to them as adults thanks to their ability to evoke strong rational and emotional feelings.

Performance can be quantified, creative ideas less so. Where performance is a tick box, ideas are a Pandora's Box. The power of a good story is often lost when planning specific details of campaigns and so the impact of the message is diminished. We're also very controlling of our stories so, sadly, sometimes the people creating the story and the people with the data, telling the story, never meet. Therefore the storytelling capabilities in digital are sometimes lost.

When brands focus only on digital tactics such as targeting efficiency, call-to-actions and increasing scale through keyword expansions, they're using the lazy tactics that have created resentment towards online advertising. Top of the funnel ideas and channels are not correlated with the bottom of the funnel and technology. As The Drum puts it, "in this playbook, brands decide that after a consumer views their website, they will bombard them with ads until kingdom come".

Doing it right

So, what can we do? Let's take a leaf out of the blossoming gaming industry, more specifically from Shigeru Miyamoto's book (the inventor of one of gamings best known Italian plumbers: Mario). At its best, the gaming industry is a prime example of technology, creativity, storytelling and commercial success all marrying together beautifully. Shigeru, in games like Donkey Kong and Mario, thought about the story and the technology dyadically. He created simple stories with simple design concepts which went on to become global hits; not just in terms of profit, but in terms of brand affinity and love. That's food for thought.

Comedians and actors will tell you it's about audience engagement and delivery. The impact of great content, great commercial tactics or textbook optimisation is diluted or even lost if these two things aren't also in place. So, when it comes to your next campaign, how about using an authentic anecdote with a data-driven delivery? Now that's a story worth telling.