Why read this? : We look at the value of storytelling in marketing. Great stories draw customers in and make your brand more engaging and memorable. Learn how from our example stories taken from categories like whisky, TV and travel. Read this to learn the value of storytelling for your brand.
How many adverts do you think you see each day? 100? 1,000?
We remember an old media agency training session telling us it was around 3,000. But we thought we’d try to find a more recent number, as that number felt too low to us.
We were right. The latest estimates put the average number of adverts seen per person per day at between 6,000 and 10,000.
Let’s split the difference and call it 8,000. 8,000 adverts each of us see or hear. Every day.
That’s a lot of advertising.
So, it’s always a challenge for your brand’s message to stand out from 7,999 other adverts. A challenge to be noticed. Remembered. And to persuade customers to do something.
The success rate of advertising
Think about how many of those 8,000 adverts have any noticeable impact. In fact, think about adverts you’ve seen or heard today. How many did you notice? How many do you remember? And more importantly, how many persuaded you to do something?
We’re guessing a lot less than 8,000.
Let’s be generous and say you saw 8 impactful ads today. (it’s probably less, but it makes the maths easier). So, even if 8 ads are impactful, that means a “success” rate of advertising of 0.1%. 8 impactful ads out of 8,000. Or, put another way, 99.9% of the adverts had no impact. You ignored them, or have already forgotten them.
Suddenly the creative team, the client and the media agency start to feel a bit nervous. Because, after all, who wants to pay for something with a 99.9% failure rate? Not great odds, are they?
But, here’s the thing.
One advertising spot doesn’t drive one sale
Thinking a single advertising spot drives sales is like thinking a single walk around the block makes you healthy. It’s not how it works. Like exercise, repetition is the key to seeing results in advertising.
Advertising works best when repeated over time in campaigns. As per our media planning guide, the frequency of advertising influences the impact it has. You’re more likely to notice, remember and be persuaded by advertising which you see many times, rather than one time.
Plus, every customer your advertising persuades to buy, doesn’t necessarily just buy that one thing, one time. They’re likely to buy it again. So the value of advertising has to look long-term. Advertising can create loyal customers who drive repeat sales too.
But there are also many other ways to make advertising work better. And one of those is storytelling. Storytelling can add a lot of value to your advertising.
As per our storytelling guide, it’s a great way to communicate with customers. The value of storytelling lies in its ability to :-
The value of storytelling - explain difficult things simply
First, storytelling is a great way to take complex topics, and make them easier to understand.
For example, say you wanted to explain some of the challenges in international advertising. It’s no secret cultural norms differ internationally. Advertising which works well in one country, won’t necessarily work in another. But how do you explain that?
You could share studies and research and quote statistics to explain it. If it was for a course or training session, you’d definitely do that, right? And people are (mostly) smart. They’ll probably get it.
But how would you do it if you’ve only got a few minutes, or a few hundred words to explain it? And do it in a way, that’s easy to understand. Well, that’s where the value of storytelling comes in. Which is an excuse for us to tell one of our favourite marketing stories.
A story about a stag selling whisky
It comes from the world of whisky. Though the point of the story isn’t really to do with whisky. It’s about international advertising and cultural norms.
We wanted to link to the source of the story, and the advertising it refers to. But, despite a lot of searching on Google this morning, we can’t find either. Probably, usage rights somewhere stopping it from being put up on YouTube.
So, you’ll just have to trust us that it happened.
And to be honest, it’s too good a story to be made up. We know it’s a good story because we can still remember it. And that’s important. Because you can use that same principle when you create advertising.
The story in one of the marketing magazines was about Glenfiddich, the single-malt scotch whisky. It had just created a new global campaign, featuring a stag (it’s their logo / symbol from the front of the bottle) walking through an eerily deserted city landscape.
As we said, that ad surprisingly isn’t on YouTube that we can find, but this one is similar.
So, the story was they tested this advert in their 10 biggest markets.
Customers almost everywhere loved it.
Like “Top 2” boxes in preference, high likeability and intent to purchase. All that pre-test stuff which market researchers get excited about.
Except for two countries
First, Brazil. The word “stag” in Brazilian Portuguese is derogatory slang for homosexual. And, in Latino cultures at the time, homosexuality was less positively accepted than it is now. That aside, the word can also be used to mean f*cker. And not in a good way. That’s not the association Glenfiddich would want. So, the advert didn’t run there.
But more interestingly, it didn’t work in Germany, either. For an entirely different reason, though.
German culture is geared toward literal thinking, not lateral thinking. Advertising using analogies or symbolism generally doesn’t work there. This meant German respondents in this research queried how the stag could be in the city. “Because, stags live in the forest, not the city.” Logically makes sense, right? But clearly, German whisky drinkers couldn’t get the symbolism. The ad never ran in Germany.
Now, if someone asked us to explain how advertising works in either Brazil or Germany from a cultural perspective before we heard this story, we’d have struggled. We’d have probably ended up talking about football or something, given both countries are so good at winning World Cups.
But with this story about the Brazilian slang word and the German literalism, you get the point quickly, right? A nice easy way to show the value of storytelling to make difficult topics easier to understand.
The value of storytelling - heroes, guides and journeys
For the next lesson in storytelling, we step away from advertising, and into the world of reality TV. No, not Celebrity Love Island, But our favourite show of the last few weeks, and that’s Junior Masterchef.
Watch any Masterchef, and you can see the producers are as much Master-Storytellers as the contestants are Master-Chefs. Story is important to how that show works.
The story structure of the series always starts with us meeting the “heroes”. The contestants, in this case. We get to understand their “quest”, one of the 7 story types Christopher Booker outlines in his book, the 7 Basic Plots. Their quest is to win the competition and show they’re the best cook. We meet their “guides”, the judges, guest chefs and food critics who help them when they get stuck. We follow their “journey” as they have ups and downs along the way.
And here’s the masterful part of the storytelling.
The downs and ups of Masterchef
If you focus on the “downs”, the contestants who hit a wall, or something goes wrong so they need to re-do a part of the recipe, they’re almost always the ones who succeed in the end.
Those fondants with no ooze. Those panna cottas with no wobble. Or, that risotto with the wrong texture.
It’s the story of their comeback from these setbacks which makes you root for these contestants. (and we obviously mean the more mainstream meaning of the word root, not the rude Australian one). We feel a stronger emotional connection to people facing a challenge. The drama hooks us in.
Much more so than the ones who get it right every time. You know them. The perfectionists. Undoubtedly talented. But less interesting to watch. And you don’t root for them. You root for the ones who overcome challenges. The ones who show more character. They’re more watchable. And, more likely to make it to the end. They make for a better story.
If you know about character archetypes from storytelling, you could argue the contestants were all playing the role of Child / Innocent. But this season’s Junior Masterchef did a great job of bringing out the additional character types behind that.
We had the Joker / Jester archetypes of Filo and Ben. Two future comedy stars, if they don’t make it in the food world.
We had the Caregiver archetypes like Carter and Dev. They went out of their way to be supportive, polite and helpful to the other contestants.
And we had the Creator types like Ruby and Laura who experimented with what’s possible with food. Their character type was to push the boundaries and take their cooking skills to another level.
And then of course, finally, Georgia, the eventual winner. The tiniest contestant of the group. But fiercely determined and proud to bring her Sri Lankan and Australian food heritage to the competition. The one who battled against the odds to win, which meant she had the best story as well as the best food.
A great Hero / Heroine story to remember.
The value of storytelling - stir the emotions
We close this article on the value of storytelling with a brand that’s only just about surviving right now, and that’s Qantas.
Qantas advertising could talk about the features of their planes. It could talk about their safety record. Or the friendliness of their staff.
But they don’t.
Because those stories would be about Qantas. And they see what they do for their customers as more important than telling people about Qantas. In their advertising stories, they make the customer the hero.
And that leads to some memorable advertising.
We first saw this advert at an Adobe martech conference at the Opera House. Qantas do a lot with Adobe, and their marketing director gave the audience a sneak peek of this new (at the time) advert.
After it ended, you could hear the audience of hardened marketing professionals gulp. There are some serious emotional “feels” with this story which touches the soul of the average Aussie.
Because that long journey home is an experience anyone who lives in Australia has felt.
It taps into deep emotions people feel when they reconnect with friends and family after a long journey home.
And Qantas is there as the guide to help their customers along the way. The way they tell the story in this advert? Amazing.
For Australians, there’s no one else you’d want to come home with, than Qantas.
So, if you want your advertising to be in that 0.1% that’s noticed and remembered, you craft a great story which makes the customer the hero. Because that’s what the value of storytelling can do for you.
Epilogue - The value of storytelling
Not all stories stop dead on the big dramatic ending of course. There’s often an epilogue to wrap up any loose ends. The (original and best) Star Wars doesn’t stop when Luke blows up the Death Star, for example. The Lord of the Rings books don’t stop after Frodo destroys the ring.
So as a mini epilogue to this article, it’s worth saying that since we originally wrote this article, we still see most brands failing to use good storytelling in their marketing.
Can you remember a good whisky advert you’ve seen recently, for example? Or who won this year’s Masterchef? Even the usually reliable Qantas is struggling at the moment. Instead, we see too many boring brand origin stories that are of little or no relevance to the customer. Stories that are dull rather than dazzling.
And that’s maybe one final point to think about when it comes to the value of storytelling. It also matters when you tell them. They need to resonate with the audience at that moment in time. They need to be relevant to something the customer cares about to make it worth their time to read.
That’s what makes a great story stand out and be remembered.
Check out our story types and story structure articles for more on storytelling. Plus, our books about writing article to learn why action, emotion and humour also help boost your story. Or give us a shout if there’s specific help you need to craft your own story.