Don’t Buy Ads. Tell Stories.

By: vibethink

April 14, 2014

Imagine for a moment that you are you. It’s one of those elusive Saturday mornings where there is absolutely nothing on your calendar. You’ve started the coffee brewing, grabbed your iPad mini, and curled up on that worn out couch you can’t bear to throw out because it is unbelievably comfortable.

As you pull up your favorite blog to catch up on what you may have missed over the week, you’re interrupted by one of those annoying pop up ads that shakes and dances across the screen. In your attempt to remove the offender, you miss the elusive “X” button and are inadvertently whisked away to the latest website for losing weight fast while meeting singles in your area. You’re not going to let it ruin your day, though, so you download Adblock as you pour yourself a cup of steaming joe.

Returning to your seat, you reload the site and breathe a sigh of relief at the absence of any sort of advertisement. There are a few new blog entries you haven’t read and one of them catches your eye. The author is commenting on The Scarecrow animated short that Chipotle created to advertise their game in the App Store. You’d heard a friend talking about the video and you’re curious.

You didn’t think it was possible to get chills from a commercial, but there they are, tingling up and down your spine. As you blink away the water welling up in your eyes (allergies, of course), it sinks in that Chipotle is trying to sucker you into buying more of their delicious burritos, but you can’t help appreciate the time, effort, and creativity that went into that advertisement’s animation, music, and narrative. They just told a great story and you just spent three and a half minutes of your precious Saturday watching it. Even if you only spent the two minutes and 20 seconds that most people share as a limit for online viewing, you took the bait.

Before the digital revolution, advertising was all about reaching the mass market with big budgets for TV commercials, radio spots, and print ads. Your audience was reachable through those mediums, and if you spent enough money and reached your prospective customers enough times, they would buy your product over someone else’s. The rule was that if you sprayed your message out hard enough and long enough over the right channels, you could keep the consumer coming.

All that’s changed. The mass market has splintered into infinite niches, so-called long tail markets, each with its own audience and multitude of access points. The “one size fits all” approach no longer applies. Not only are organizations faced with a paralyzing number of options for reaching consumers, individuals are barraged by a constant stream of advertising messages online as well as on TV, radio, and print. To cope with the overwhelming amount of information coming at us every day, we’ve set up filters to block out all the noise. Nothing gets through that we don’t allow through the gates. We put on blinders like Adblock to ignore the chaos because if we allowed our attention to be taken up by all the information we come across, nothing would ever get done. So how do you, the advertiser, get your message across?

Stories are the key. From oral histories and folktales to written novels and plays to TV shows and movies; storytellers like Homer and Dante, Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky, Christie and Chandler, Tolkien and Rowling, Gilligan and Moffat, Hitchcock and Spielberg have captured our hearts and our attention spans forever.

Telling stories seems natural and simple and yet many organizations don’t quite understand how to use the storytelling process for their own marketing purposes. The idea is not to sell your product or service through a story, but to tell a story first, then sell your product/service after you’ve gained the trust of your audience.  How do you tell if a story’s good? Good stories are the ones we retell and share with others because we want them to experience the same emotions the narrative elicited from us.

Storytelling Examples:

Coca-Cola: Small World Machines

Apple: Your Verse

WestJet: Christmas Miracle


Essential Links for Storytelling

Meaningful Stories

Seth Godin: Not Liars, Storytellers
“Marketing is storytelling. The story of your product, built into your product. The ad might be part of it, the copy might be part of it, but mostly, your product and your service and your people are all part of the story. Tell it on purpose.”

Forbes: Marketers Corner the Market on Storytelling
“A bad story can be as deadly as an overloaded PowerPoint presentation.”

Nick Woodman: Storytelling + Brand Marketing
“We don’t have 30 seconds to be interrupted, but we have 30 minutes to hear a great story”

Brad Frost – Death to Bullshit
“With more stuff out there, people are forced to focus on what truly matters to them, and their tolerance of unnecessary noise is rapidly diminishing. As creators in this day in age, we have to respect people’s time and make things that are legitimately worthwhile. In this age of information overload, thoughtfulness and skill matter more than ever.”

Eliciting Emotion & Engagement

Skype: Storytelling the Key to Great Marketing
“The most innovative marketing I see today has one connection in common: great old-fashioned storytelling coupled with modern technology to help create, tell and share the story. Stories hit us at a very primal and emotional level while technology has never been more advanced to help us engage and participate.”

Skype Whitepaper: Marketing Essentials Storytelling
“Whether we’re crouching in a dripping cave drawing deer on the walls, or sitting in a SoHo deli uploading photos of venison burgers onto Instagram, our urge to turn the chaotic world into a coherent narrative is a deep and consistent human drive. Storytelling helps us build our individual identities, but it also acts like social glue.”

Rethink Everything: Why Storytelling is So Important to Marketing
“The story is primary. And, because of that, the message sounds more genuine. Although consumers ultimately understand that the message is intended to convince them to buy the product or service, they are emotionally connected to the characters (or the “action” of the story in the event that such action is personified) because it is a story.”

Fast Co: Storytelling as the Ultimate Weapon
“And, in this, there is an important lesson about the molding power of story. When we read dry, factual arguments, we read with our dukes up. We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally and this seems to leave us defenseless.”