Forget the hard sell. Advertising works in today’s interactive world if it tells interesting stories that resonate with the viewer and don’t bore her even after repeated airings. Still, the ad man as a storyteller is a role rife with dichotomies: is it possible to be a friend of the viewer and also sell to her? Besides, if stories are usually equated with fiction, can they be truthful—without the hyperbole and posturings of being eco-conscious, or socially responsible?
Paul Woolmington, co-founder, Naked Communications, tells me the word storytelling does not mean ad men are creating fiction; instead, it is about how messaging evolves and builds engaging consumers.
Woolmington’s point: Today, brands stand nude in front of the consumer than ever before, requiring changes in the way we communicate. With infinite channel choices and new media, a one dimensional world of push communications has to make way for four-dimensional storytelling where the agency, or the advertiser cedes control of the message to the consumer. These stories need to be rooted in an authentic base and dialogue, but play out in a non-traditional, non-linear way. Thus, marketing moves away from being a mere hawker when consumers are an integral part of the dialogue, he says.
Ad pundits say that the story should be born from the brand’s raison d’etre. There’s a unique story (not selling) proposition (USP), which every piece of communication should cue into, they say. Pepsi’s stories, for instance, are about change. The pundits add that customers, stakeholders, employees, distributors and others should co-write the brand story and take it forward.
The brand’s story need not always be told. It’s usually experienced at each and every point of consumer contact: packaging, retail and service. Genuine product promise and innovation, not advertising, made Bodyshop an iconic brand. Its parallel in the digital world could be Google, recently voted as the most reputed company in America.
More importantly, the brand story must never appear false, or contradictory. Unilever’s Dove tells a great story of real beauty, though online talk that the ads used touch-up artists did cause some dissonance.
A classic story should be built on enduring brand values, but capable of entertaining and surprising—with twists in the tale and space for creative change. I’ve loved the ongoing brand stories of Apple, Nike, Adidas, Fevicol, Matrix, Cadbury…all high on USP.
Above all, a great story should move you enough to open your purse—after unlocking your heart.
Marion Arathoon is Mint’s advertising editor. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read all of Marion Arathoon’s earlier columns, go to www.livemint.com/advalue