Storytelling seems to be the buzzword on everyone’s lips. Brands are certainly telling a lot more stories to get our attention. But why is it that often these stories don’t take flight?

With consumers becoming increasingly cynical towards overt marketing messages, storytelling is more important than ever before. Everyone responds to a great story. But brands don’t tell stories that are going to be read curled up on a sofa – they have to do something far more sophisticated. They have to translate their emotional core in mere seconds, in just a few pictures and images. And these stories have to be distinct and powerful enough to live and breathe across a wealth of different media.

When brands tell stories well, something very special happens. They draw rich narrative worlds that are full of inspiration and can be the stage set for a range of connected stories. At their best, these worlds are distinct, aspirational and truly exciting places for consumers to get to know. And stories flow far more readily from a rich, realised narrative world. The Nescafe Gold Blend couple, Sharon Maughan and Anthony Head, did this brilliantly. Their romantic drama lasted for five years, mostly revolving around borrowing or drinking coffee, but had a diehard following longing for the next advert-episode.

Similarly, BT captivated the heart of Britain as the tale of Adam and Jane’s romance blossomed with every 30 second TV ad, as the likeable couple experienced everyday stories which people could relate too. Even the anticipated “Happy ending” invited people to choose Jane’s wedding dress using a Facebook campaign and more than 500,000 people voted to influence the couple’s wedding day. A brand success story. Unfortunately it’s not the case for the story of the residents of Flat 6, where student Simon and his housemates bond over their BT Infinity broadband. The multi-channel format of the ads is impressive, but the product links are tenuous, the characters awkward and dialogue patronising, failing to create the same emotional attachment that the Adam and Jane story did. Where is the story likely to end? And does anyone really care?

Once a lucid story space is created it can have a vivid location, robust characters and a range of inspiring places to explore. From this fertile base, myriad stories spring up, and all ladder to the same powerful message, clearly and consistently evoking the brand’s core.

STORYTELLING BRANDS

Brands can learn a lesson from some of the great brand storytellers who bring the story to life through real life experiences; Jack Daniel’s keeps it simple and consistent. They’ve created a strong character based around their founder, but they also bring to the whole warm, witty community of Lynchburg, Tennessee to life. What’s clever about Jack Daniels’ stories is that they only give you a glimpse into the brand, so the sense of mystery is maintained and you’re left wanting more. Cadbury’s have created the world of ‘Joyville’ – a Willy Wonka type of place where all of their brands can live and breathe in happy harmony. The activation (including an experiential chocolate factory) creates real engagement beyond the products and breathes fresh life into the brand and what it stands for.

Brand stories are like any book – they’re either replaced on the shelf once you’ve idly flicked a few pages, or so well-crafted that they become compellingly ‘un-put-downable’. Why sit on the shelf when storytelling doesn’t just engage in short term, but can secure you consumers for life, loyal and hungry for more?

 

By Hazel Barkworth and Eleanor Sellar, Cultural Insight Team, Added Value UK

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