Marketing Idea No. 113 – Storytelling works better than product shots and comparisons

December 4, 2007by Shahriar Amin2

Want to market your brand better? Then tell a story. That’s the top finding from an intensive three-year study entitled “On the Road to a New Effectiveness Model” released this month.

The Advertising Research Foundation and American Assn. of Advertising Agencies, both based in New York, set out to measure consumers’ emotional responses to TV advertising. What they discovered is that advertisements that tell a branding story work better than ads that focus on product positioning.

Thirty-three ads across 12 categories, from brands like Budweiser, Campbell’s Soup and MasterCard, were analyzed by 14 leading emotion and physiological research firms. The research tools varied from testing heart rate and skin conductance of the ad viewer to brain diagnostics.

“We were trying to identify patterns that could be used,” said Bill Cook, ARF svp-research and standards. “We saw powerful pieces of evidence for the impact of advertising.”

One such pattern was that a campaign like Bud’s iconic “Wassup” registered more powerfully with consumers than Miller Lite low-carb ads that essentially just said, “We’re better than the other guys.” Why? Because Bud told a story about friends connected by a special greeting.

The report contends that in many ways, advertising is stuck in the past. The 20th century was dominated by a one-way transactional focus where ads were pushed at consumers. Today, consumers interact with ads to “co-create” meaning that is powered by emotion and rich narrative. “Advertising has been standing on the sidelines, stuck on the language of positioning,” said Randall Ringer, managing director and co-founder, Verse Group, New York. “Telling a story about the brand is more engaging, memorable and compelling than telling a bunch of facts. What worked 30 years ago with a 30-second spot doesn’t work today.”

Other ads that struck a chord positioned the brand itself playing the archetypal role of hero. In Campbell’s “Orphan” ad, it is about bringing together a mother and her foster child.

Ad research firm Gallup-Robinson, Pennington, N.J., found that the spot, which showed a little girl’s sadness and anxiety melt away into a soft smile once she was given a bowl of soup, generated 80% purchase intent. Most viewers measured said it was believable.

A similar study from Ameritest, Albuquerque, N.M., found it received 42% purchase intent compared to a category norm of 33%.

But for such storytelling ads to be truly effective, the plots need to tie in to a positive brand message. “When the emotional peaks align with the presence of the brand, or the impact of the brand in the story, the emotional connection with the brand is greatest,” Cook said.

While a MasterCard “Priceless” campaign, featuring a father taking a son to a baseball game, successfully achieved this impact, not all storytelling ads work. A United Airlines spot that showed an emotional story of a business man returning home was deemed unimaginative by 68% of those surveyed by TNS Ad Eval.

Eighty-four percent of respondents said the humor came through loud and clear for Southwest Airlines’ “Want to get away” ad, which showed a woman accidentally destroying a man’s medicine cabinet while snooping.

A Nissan Maxima spot also failed. At first blush it appears a couple is talking about sex, but in fact they are talking about the car. “Negative levels were so high for many people over the brashness of the guy and his seemingly erotic proposal that they were unable to switch over to more positive feelings once the Maxima appeared,” said the report.

The study does not discuss the ROI of the ads for their marketers. Mark Truss, director of brand intelligence at JWT, New York, said the storytelling theory is correct, but the industry still lacks a way to prove it. “Without the tools to measure and link back to business metrics, marketers and advertisers are not going to embrace [this approach].”

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  • kazi

    December 10, 2007 at 11:12 am

    i totally agreed with u. need to creat a sellable story for ur brand. it will develop a attachement with ur brand and ur target group.


  • Sadique

    December 11, 2007 at 5:24 am

    Also agreed

    one more point: the story telling also should be consistant and connected so that people can connect easily. why are we going aborad to find stories, sotries have been promoted successfully in BD also: the GP MA ad, Banglalink Din Bodoler series ads, Nokia Jure roho ad (though indian, i brought it up coz it seems related to the Airline ad you mentioned).

    the success of Nike ads was because they stuck to it.

    I just heard yesterday in radio some new ads of surf excel. They are changing the successful Daag nei to Shekaho nei to some similar but revised version. Then in some of the ads, the tagline is absent. So they are actually running three ads of same product: 2 with different tagline and one without any tagline. Though the stories are there, the polular tag is missing. Brought out the point to compare with Nike who didnt feel that they need to change their tagline because it became old. Sometimes it is better familiar stories are tagged with similar taglines.


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Copyrights © 2022 Shahriar Amin. All Rights Reserved.

Designed & Developed with ❤︎ by R&G Technologies