Brands need more than storytelling, they need advertising…

Brands need more than storytelling, they need advertising…


Claire Knapp is a Senior Planner at HAVAS LYNX. Claire undertakes strategic and tactical planning to help develop brand strategies; creating bespoke and tailored campaigns that match the needs and profiles of the audience and strategic objectives of the brand.

Customers are nothing but emotional creatures with options. It is how we feel about our options that persuades us between halloumi or brie, the red top or the blue top, Brand X or Brand Y. Emotions have a hugely influential role on customer behaviours.

Sometimes we talk about emotions and rational thinking as disparate entities but as Damasio writesemotions are essential to rational thinking. For example, the rational argument for buying a Volvo is because they have great safety records and are completely committed to being the safest cars on the road. But upon this rational choice, we build an emotional level that the Volvo doesn’t keep the car safe, it keeps your children safe. Or an oncology treatment doesn’t give you six extra months to live, it gives you enough time to see your daughter’s wedding. Great advertising layers emotion upon the rational features of the brand’s product.

Stories are the perfect way to do this, they are (or at least should be) immersive, we emotionally connect with what we hear, read or see. We regularly pay money to submerge ourselves in stories through cinema, books and music. We enjoy forming emotional connections and brands enjoy selling products, so why not entwine the two if we can. It’s completely logical that storytelling has become so firmly lodged in advertising.

Because of this brands have told stories, and stories, and stories. We have done it rather extensively and even exhaustively in places. We have done our best to cover off the seven types of storytelling and to form those so sought after connections with our customers. We have paid millions upon millions to show our stories on prime TV, or plaster them online and offline. Storytelling has gone from fun to fundamental. Ad people preach about storytelling in blogs (clearly I am included in this bucket), to client meetings, to books and events. We just absolutely love a good story.

But one thing we are not so good at is remembering that customers don’t pay for our brand’s advertising, they pay for our brand’s products. Customers don’t queue up at midnight to see the latest story our brands have to say, they queue up for the product. Sometimes we can muster some excitement ‘what will John Lewis’ Christmas ad be’, ‘what will Budweiser do at the super bowl’. Even if we cherry pick examples of where people actively look out for a brand’s latest ad, they are still not paying to see it.

Because people do not pay our brands money to tell stories, they pay for the product; we must remember that our remit is more than storytelling, it’s advertising. At the end of every one of our stories we must have at least attempted to persuade the customer to buy the product, not just think how great the brand is at telling a story.

“You can’t tell any kind of a story without having some kind of a theme, something to say between the lines.” Robert Wise

Of course advertising is much more than a thirty second ad; it is the full brand experience. So a strong story should have no boundaries, it should infect their entire presence, online or offline. A strength test of your story is if it ticks impact, communication and persuasion. Impact — does it stand out or is it the same as everything else? Communication — does it effectively communicate your brand, if you could swap out the logo for another brand, then it’s no good. Persuasion — is there a strong enough proposition to get someone to buy your brand’s product.

But the best stories don’t just infect the entire brand presence, they infect customers too. The strongest stories cross over from the screen or the page and into our lives. Coke’s storytelling got us passing around recycling to each other because it had our name on it. The story infected our daily lives.

Stories that influence our emotions are powerful and they may even get us to buy a product more, if they hit the delightful combination of impact, communication and persuasion. But really great advertising will get us to influence the emotions of others. Word of Mouth! A friend of mine will always tell me about the next ad I will love because it has a soppy story between a horse and dog or a hare and a bear. She will tell me how unlikely it is that a hare will be friends with a bear and how irresponsible it is to encourage us to wake a bear during hibernation. I will counter with the only argument ‘it’s so cute though’. But it doesn’t matter what we say, it’s the fact that we say it.

The brands that get us to talk to each other about their product, these brands do more than storytelling, they do advertising.

Connect with Claire through @Knapp_ster or LinkedIn