If you can tell a story that engages and intrigues, and do it within a simple ad format, consumers will pull up a chair and listen.
When we think of brand storytelling, we think of Facebook timelines that walk consumers through the history of a brand. We might envision a branded web series, or a behind-the-scenes look at a company's founders on YouTube. The "what" and "how" of a brand story assume many shapes, and the platforms and methods of delivery at our disposal to deliver them run the gamut from sponsored articles to online video. In the midst of all of this content hullabaloo, though, are we remembering to tell a story in our ads?
This week digital marketing darling Oreo launched a new TV spot that captures the essence of storytelling in ads. Called the "Wonderfilled Anthem," the ad - which ran during "Mad Men" and was also posted to YouTube - asks what might happen if you gave an Oreo cookie to a storybook creature like the Big Bad Wolf, a vampire, or a giant squid. Would it alter their story as we know it? At the end of the ad, as well as on Oreo's Facebook page, the brand flips that question on its head: "Wonder if we gave an Oreo to you. How would the story unfold?"
For a cookie brand that appeals equally to children and adults, embracing a storytelling theme makes perfect sense. Oreo is currently posting images to its social media accounts that take the notion even further with lines like, "A great story calls for a great cookie." It's telling a story in other ways, too. On Instagram, a photo titled "Music Festival essentials" displays a number of objects and a package of Oreo Grab & Go. Consumers don't need much more copy guidance than that in order to picture themselves with the objects, wondering how a day with them might play out.
While many ads tell a story, most do so in bits and pieces. Think of the fitness and sports apparel ads you've seen. Typically they're a collection of images relating to determination and athleticism that, when viewed as a whole, tell an overarching story of strength. This can work, but it lacks the uniformity of Oreo's more traditional storytelling approach. If you want to have the greatest possible impact, it's good to give consumers a narrative arc (rising action, falling action, resolution), and invite them to picture themselves in the story as well.
It's easy to come up short on story, because a marketer's natural inclination is to return to the product again and again. The trick is to incorporate the product into the story in a way that lends itself to the narrative, rather than encumbers it.
Cast Your Characters
In a new Spanish-language TV and digital ad campaign designed for Hispanic audiences, Wendy's introduces the Rojos, a fictional family with three kids ranging in age from grade school to teen. In each of the forthcoming ads, which will also be featured online, the brand will be showcasing a different character subplot and showing viewers how Wendy's plays into the characters' lives.
Whether your story takes the form of a TV spot turned online video, a takeover, or a pre-roll ad, consumers want characterization, and the right cast of characters can make for a memorable and effective message. Consumers may feel more connected to your brand if they notice a consistency of characters across your promotions, both online and off-.
Consider Your Format
At the heart of good media buying is successfully matching the right ad to the right publisher - but if you try approaching a campaign from back to front, you might find that your channel of choice can influence the story you tell. Take Twitter: it's becoming a hotbed for short fiction as writers try their hand at serial stories told 140 characters at a time. Last year Twitter held a Fiction Festival, and you can expect to see more opportunities like this in the months to come. Rather than crafting a video story and linking to it through your Twitter account, use Twitter itself as the storytelling medium, or really challenge your brand by crafting a six-second story on Vine. You can always continue your narrative elsewhere, in longer form, but you're apt to get a lot more attention if you start your saga somewhere unexpected and fresh.
Traditional ad formats are no longer the most obvious choice for brands looking to tell a story online, but they're versatile and familiar, and that can work in a marketer's favor. If you can tell a story that engages and intrigues, and do it within a simple ad format, consumers will pull up a chair and listen.
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Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.
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