Entire industries have been built almost solely on advertising. Take television. My favorite shows – with their intriguing characters and surprising plot twists – are written with the explicit purpose of dicing them up and wedging advertisements between the most compelling parts of the story. If I want to see if my favorite character survived his latest plight, I have to sit through a few soda commercials first.
And there in lies the secret. It’s a pretty safe bet that I wouldn’t watch an electronic box in my home if it just looped images of products and endorsements. But television networks understand one simple truth:
The audience wants a story. It craves an emotional journey – one with a resonating truth or thoughtful insight that can speak to the masses. I accept those soda commercials because I want to see my favorite character’s fate. I want to see his resolution. I want to see his story.
Storytelling is why we buy movie tickets and read books. It’s why we listen to radio and download our favorite songs. We attach ourselves to a strong story with a powerful, yet simple message.
In other words, effective storytelling equals effective advertising.
But I’ve accepted a hard truth, folks: I live in a world suffering from advertising overload – a society plastered with colorful billboards, zany banners, over-sized posters that exhibit the latest in hair-dye products, and those nightmare-inducing flailing-arm inflatable tube men perched outside cellphone stores across the country.
Many brands have obviously mistaken over-stimulation of the senses for effective advertising. I call it the “Michael Bay Effect.”
It’s as if all the brands in the world raised their hands at the same time, frantically waving (I imagine a classroom full of flailing-arm inflatable tube men) to get my attention while shouting different answers to a question that I didn’t ask.
Even consumers are getting in on the game, advertising their location, mood, and fictional mayoral status on Facebook, Foursquare, and a multitude of other social media avenues – most of it without the compelling context of story.
And since fifty-six percent of us now have a smartphone in our pocket, the majority of us are carrying those billboards, posters, and Facebook posts with us wherever we go. There’s no escaping the noise.
And when so much noise hits us at once, we learn to tune it out.
But all hope is not lost. Advertisers just have to remember one key thing: Our brains are hardwired for stories. As much as we would like to consider ourselves logical beings, we have a much easier time absorbing knowledge and interpreting events through emotion. If you craft a relatable enough message, our mental defenses will drop. The key is weaving the right emotionally driven story.
Often, the simpler the story the bigger impact it can have. With quick commercials and single panel banners, advertising lends itself naturally to simple stories that can be short and sweet.
Take, for example, this Super Bowl placement created by Dodge advertisers. It crafts a compelling tale in two minutes – creating an emotional bridge between hardworking, sacrificing farmers and Dodge trucks in the process:
You’ll notice the commercial currently has over 15 million views on YouTube. I highly doubt Dodge would have gotten the same positive exposure if it instead put up billboards that wafted the smell of rubber tires and motor oil across America’s heartland.
If advertisers hope to stand out from the zany posters and flailing tube men, they have to reach their audience on an emotional level. And the building block of any solid content is a strong story. Remember: Good stories are crafted. Noise is just created.
My fellow consumers and I have become desensitized to the advertising that engulfs our daily lives. But if an advertisement weaves the right story, we’ll remember the message long after we’ve seen the ad. If the advertiser can find its story, its audience will find them. No flailing-arm inflatable tube men required.