Importance of storytelling in creative advertising

Storytelling is just as important in advertising as it is in journalism. That is because, as Paul J. Zak argues in his article “Why your brain loves good storytelling”, humans are naturally interested in stories for stories elicit emotions. These emotions are what sells.

The works of consumer behavior by Holt and Thompson (2004) and in related fields of human inquiry, by Bruner (1990) reveal that people think narratively rather than argumentatively or paradigmatically. Similarly, research in advertising (see Woodside et al. 2008) also shows that audience’ emotional responses to an advertising leave much greater effect on their decisions than the cold, hard facts in the ad.

Take, as an example, from Sandy Hook Promise “Evan” campaign.

Did you think it was a romantic love story between a young man and a woman who were communicating via desk writing and finally met?

Perhaps, yes. Just like me, through the majority of the story.

This story was so powerful and unpredictable that we didn’t really see it coming at all. We were blind to our satisfaction toward the end when our young man finally found his woman. And only until that moment did we realize it wasn’t about that romantic love story we were being told. It was something else.

Sandy Hook Promise wrapped its product demo and campaign message in an otherwise compelling storyline, told from a youth/student’s point of view. In this way, we don’t perceive it as a form of advertising. Not at all.

But it is difficult to craft content that narrates a compelling and emotionally engaging story like that. As the author of “In a year of great storytelling” Will Burns observes, such a powerful story requires not merely the creativity as an integral component, but also strategy.

“Because a creative film without a strategy is not advertising, it’s just entertainment,” he says.

That’s why a large number of advertising that attempt to use stories to sell products have failed. They’ve instead spurred ad blockers in the platform they advertise and developed in our brain an anti-ad system.

Josh Mabus of Mabus Ad Agency so suggests that “If we want consumers to less aggressively oppose advertising and be less suspicious of our motives, we must offer them an actual benefit and stop begging for their time and attention”.

And that is to give them experiences through stories that are potent enough to create emotions.


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